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Boeing asks FAA to allow 787 test flights

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Boeing Co. asked the Federal Aviation Administration for approval to resume test flights with the 787 Dreamliner while the plane remains grounded during an investigation of battery faults.

The FAA was still considering that request on Tuesday, said an agency official, who asked not to be identified because the details aren't yet public. Boeing would operate any such flights with existing test aircraft, Marc Birtel, a company spokesman, said on Monday.

Flying test planes would let Boeing study the Dreamliner's lithium-ion power packs while the 50 787s in service stay parked. Regulators and Boeing are still trying to determine what caused a battery fire on one jet and a cockpit warning that spurred an emergency landing by another, which in turn triggered grounding orders worldwide on Jan. 16.

“Flight tests are the best way to get to the root cause,” Stephen Levenson, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in New York, said on Tuesday in a note to investors. Levenson said he expects the FAA to approve the flights.

Boeing rose 0.9 percent to $75.89 at the close in New York. That pared the stock's decline to 2.3 percent since Jan. 4, the last trading day before the battery fire, compared with a 3.1 percent gain for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

The planemaker “has submitted an application to conduct test flights, and it is currently under evaluation by the FAA,” Birtel said in an e-mail.

He wouldn't say when or where Chicago-based Boeing might conduct any tests, or with how many planes.

Boeing performed thousands of hours of tests on the six-jet development fleet before the plane's 2011 commercial debut.

Safety officials outside the United States joined the FAA's order to airlines to park their Dreamliners after a fire in the lithium-ion power pack of a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston and a battery warning on an All Nippon Airways flight that forced an emergency landing.

Those directives marooned some 787s far from airlines' bases.

State-run Air India was allowed to fly Dreamliners to Mumbai for maintenance after its six 787s were scattered, with four in Delhi and one each in Chennai and Bangalore, Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Mishra said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said federal regulators would wait until the battery probe is complete before allowing any test flights for Boeing production aircraft or so-called ferry flights to let airlines reposition any stranded Dreamliners.

“There's a focus on the batteries, and we're going to continue to let the people doing the investigation finish their work,” LaHood told reporters before touring the Washington Auto Show.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta met last week with investigators in Seattle, LaHood said.

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