Boeing sees May restart of 787 deliveries, flights

Published April 24, 2013 10:20 pm

Safety • In wake of robust 1Q, battery fix would cap notable turnaround.
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Boeing reported a better-than-expected first-quarter profit, even as it scrambled to fix its grounded 787 in hopes of getting it airborne next month.

The company said on Wednesday that deliveries could resume in early May for the 787, parts of which were built at Boeing's operations in Salt Lake City, where it employs about 500 people. Some airlines are expected to begin flying the innovative jets again by the middle of the month, when most of the 50 planes that are in service are expected to be fixed.

Resuming deliveries and passenger flights would cap a notable turnaround for Boeing. The three-month grounding over battery problems frustrated airlines and turned a spotlight onto the way commercial planes are designed and regulated. Putting the problem behind it will let Boeing focus on building new versions of its best-selling 737 and 777.

Air safety authorities around the world grounded 787s after two different planes experienced smoldering batteries — one of them including a fire, one of them in-flight — in January. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Boeing's redesigned battery system, which the company says should sharply reduce the risk of a fire.

Once the FAA approves the fix on individual planes, airlines can start flying them again. United Airlines, the only U.S. airline with the planes, moved one of its six 787s to a Boeing facility in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday so it can get the battery fix. Neither of the battery incidents involved a United jet.

The new battery system includes extra insulation between the battery's individual cells, a box designed to contain any fire and changes that Boeing says will extinguish any fire almost instantly. The fix should keep any battery problems "from affecting the airplane or even being noticed by passengers," Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney said on the company's quarterly earnings conference call.

The new battery setup has been installed on 10 787s that belong to airlines, and on nine more that have been built but not delivered, he said. Each installation takes about five days.Operating profit rose 12 percent in its defense unit as its space business grew sharply.

Shares of Chicago-based Boeing Co. rose $2.65, or 3 percent, to $90.83 in trading Wednesday after rising as high as $92.65 earlier. That was the highest level for the shares since December 2007, according to FactSet.