The Dreamliner will soar above Boston on Saturday for the first time since the Boeing 787 fleet was grounded Jan. 16 because of multiple battery malfunctions, including a fire on an empty Japan Airlines plane parked at Logan International Airport.
Saturday’s flight, scheduled to touch down from Tokyo at 11:05 a.m. and leave Logan at 1 p.m., marks the resumption of Japan Airlines’ daily 787 service on the route, which had been reduced to four days a week on a larger 777 while the battery problem was fixed.
The plane at Logan that led to the grounding — followed nine days later by an All Nippon Airways 787 that made an emergency landing in Japan when its battery started smoking — remained in Boston until it was repaired and flown back to Tokyo two weeks ago. The $207 million aircraft is one of eight 787s currently in use by Japan Airlines, which flies the beleaguered plane to 10 destinations around the world.
When it started in April of last year, the Boston-Tokyo Japan Airlines flight was the 787’s first commercial route in the United States — and a successful one, with planes 84 percent full, on average. With its lightweight carbon-composite construction and increased reliance on electricity, the 787 uses 20 percent less fuel than other planes its size, allowing airlines to operate long-haul routes profitably with fewer passengers out of Boston and other mid-size markets.
The 787 is also the first Boeing plane to use lithium-ion batteries, which are susceptible to quick, uncontrolled rises in temperature. The fire at Logan was started by a short-circuit in one of the battery cells, with temperatures rising above 500 degrees and spreading to other cells, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigators have not determined what caused the fire.
After the Federal Aviation Administration and other authorities approved Boeing’s proposed battery modifications in April, Boeing dispatched more than 300 engineers, mechanics, and advisers to 13 locations around the world to upgrade the battery systems in the fifty 787s in service, installing new batteries, venting, enclosure, and insulation. Each airplane took about five days to repair, with teams working around the clock in two 12-hour shifts, Boeing said.
With no room in the airport hangars to house the Japan Airlines plane that caught fire at Logan, the aircraft was kept outside in the north cargo area, with weatherproof structures built over the fuselage and the rear of the right wing to allow repairs to be made in a sterile, climate-controlled environment, Logan officials said.
The eight airlines that fly the 787 have been returning jets to service since the end of April. United Airlines, the only US airline currently using the Dreamliner, operated its first flight May 20. Japan Airlines will return its 787s to the sky with a staggered rollout from June to December, starting Saturday with service to Boston, San Diego, Singapore, and Beijing.
In all, Japan Airlines canceled 766 flights due to the 787’s grounding, including 32 out of Logan, and lost about $64 million in operating revenue.
The battery issues don’t appear to have dampened demand for the plane, however. JAL has ordered 45 Dreamliners in total and expects to have 33 in its fleet by the end of fiscal year 2016. Boeing has orders for nearly 900 Dreamliners. Deliveries, halted during the grounding, resumed this month.