TOKYO — ANA Holdings Inc., the biggest operator of Boeing Co. 787s, aims to resume scheduled flights of the jet on June 1, Chief Executive Officer Shinichiro Ito said Sunday.
Ito, who flew on the airline's initial test flight Sunday with Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner after completion of a fix to the battery system, said Tokyo-based ANA won't change plans for introducing the Dreamliner to its fleet. It expects to receive 10 more planes in the year to March and will assign the next delivery to expanding domestic routes.
ANA faces a challenge in luring back customers to an aircraft grounded for more than three months after lithium-ion batteries on two planes overheated and melted. Saturday's 787 test flight by Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise was the first since the Jan. 16 grounding, the longest for a large commercial plane by U.S. and Japanese regulators since jet airliners began flying in the 1950s.
"It's going to be difficult to get passengers to fly," said Ryota Himeno, an analyst at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd. "A month isn't long enough to convince passengers. ANA needs to invest a lot of time in flying the planes before customers come back."
U.S. air safety authorities haven't determined what caused the battery faults that sparked a Jan. 7 fire on a JAL 787 in Boston and forced an emergency landing by an ANA jet in Japan nine days later.
Japan's government last week approved resumption of 787 flights by ANA, which operates 17 Dreamliners, and Japan Airlines Co., the world's second-largest operator, with seven. Boeing has about 300 personnel on 10 teams to make the FAA- approved fixes to the battery system, which take about five days each, it has said.
The 787 is safe to fly, even as the cause of the battery meltdowns remains uncertain, Mike Sinnett, vice president and chief project engineer of the 787 program, said yesterday. Stress testing of Chicago-based Boeing's redesigned system showed its steel casing and heat vent reduced battery overheating, he said in Tokyo.
"Even if we never know the root cause, the enclosure keeps airplanes safe, and eliminates the possibility of fire," Sinnet said. "I can't comment on the root cause because the investigation is ongoing."
Ito said Sunday that ANA has yet to calculate how much the grounding of its 787s cost the airline, and will begin considering the question of compensation after the situation is resolved.
Boeing's Conner, who said the grounding was a "long" time, said the company will discuss compensation with individual airlines. It's too early to decide whether the manufacturer will use lithium-ion batteries in the future, he said.
ANA started repairs April 22 at four airports around Japan, according to Ryosei Nomura, a spokesman. JAL also started fixing the batteries last week, Hisanori Iizuka, a spokesman for the carrier, said April 26.
The cost for replacing the battery will be about $465,000 a plane in the United States, according to the FAA, and the fix adds about 150 pounds of weight to a 787.
ANA will conduct about 230 test flights for pilots with the upgraded 787s, Hiroyuki Ito, a senior executive vice president, told reporters last week. The carrier will also inspect the battery systems after flights.
ANA and JAL also have put in place a system to monitor the batteries during flights and transmit data to the ground, the carriers have said.
ANA fell 0.5 percent to 209 yen at the close in Tokyo on April 26, while Japan Airlines gained 3.6 percent to 4,750 yen. Boeing rose 1.3 percent to $92.85 in New York trading.
The Dreamliner is the only large commercial jet equipped with lithium-ion batteries as part of its power system. GS Yuasa Corp. makes the batteries, which are part of an electrical power conversion system built by France's Thales. United Technologies Corp.'s aerospace unit supplies the system, which uses enough electricity to power 400 homes.
Airbus abandoned lithium-ion batteries for its A350, the direct rival to the 787, after Boeing encountered problems. Airbus plans the first A350 deliveries next year.