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United resumes flights of troubled Boeing 787s

NEW YORK — United Airlines put its 787 back in the air on Monday, with both the airline and Boeing hoping to put the plane’s four-month grounding behind them.

The flight from Houston to Chicago was just the kind of 787 flight that airlines are hoping for: uneventful.

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Smoldering batteries on two 787s owned by other airlines prompted authorities to ground the planes in January. The failure of Boeing’s newest, flashiest, and most important plane embarrassed the company and its customers.

Both United chief executive Jeff Smisek and Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney were on Monday’s flight, and United promoted the plane’s return to service.

Said Smisek, ‘‘I’ll tell you, Jim, it was a fairly expensive piece of sculpture to have on the ground so we’re really delighted to have it up and flying.’’

United is the only US airline currently flying the 787.

The airline, based in Chicago, said it will use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flying June 10 with new Denver-to-Tokyo service as well as temporary Houston-to-London flights. It’s adding flights to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lagos, Nigeria, in August.

Those long international flights are the main reason the 787 exists. Its medium size and fuel efficiency are a good fit for long routes. Starting with shorter domestic flights ‘‘will give us a period to ramp up full 787 operations,’’ United spokeswoman Christen David said.

Four of its six 787s have been fixed, and United said the other two will get the battery modification in coming days.

Airlines including Japan Airlines and South America’s LATAM Airlines Group said profit took a hit because of the grounding. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews. It expects to resume flying soon. The grounding forced United to delay planned international flights and reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million.

The battery incidents in January included an emergency landing of one plane in Japan and a fire on a plane on the ground at Logan International Airport in Boston. No one was serious injured.

Federal authorities lifted the grounding order on April 19, but it has taken Boeing and the airlines a few more weeks to fix most of them. The grounding disrupted schedules at the eight airlines flying the planes. The company had delivered 50 of the planes worldwide.

The 787 uses more electricity than any other jet. And it makes more use of lithium-ion batteries than other jets to provide power for such functions as flight controls and a backup generator when its engines are shut down. Each 787 has two of the batteries.

Boeing Co. did not figure out the root cause of the battery incidents. Instead, it redesigned the battery and its charger. The idea was to eliminate all of the possible causes, 787 chief engineer Mike Sinnett said in an online chat on Thursday in which he and a Boeing test pilot took questions about the plane.

The changes include more heat insulation between each cell and charging the battery to a lower maximum voltage.

Ethiopian Airlines resumed flying 787s on April 27, and Air India and Qatar Airways have also restarted flights. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have said they expect to restart 787 flights on June 1.

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