"These test flights will be an important part of our efforts to ensure the safety of passengers and return these aircraft to service," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The FAA's decision came Thursday afternoon, following a specially authorized "ferry" flight of a Boeing 787 from Fort Worth, Texas, to Everett. The plane, destined for China Southern, was in Texas for painting. It landed late Thursday morning at Paine Field.
The FAA grounded Boeing's 787 on Jan. 16 after two Dreamliners experienced battery failures. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating a Jan. 7 battery fire on a Japan Airlines 787, on Thursday challenged assumptions used by Boeing to win FAA certification of the 787's lithium-ion battery.
The commercial in-service fleet of about 50 Dreamliners remains grounded.
In its release, the FAA said 787 test flights "will be conducted in defined airspace over unpopulated areas." The agency also has several other requirements, including a pre-flight check of the jet's batteries and continuous monitoring of the batteries during flight. Before the first test flight, Boeing must "inspect the airplane's smoke barriers and insulation to verify that they meet the approved design," the FAA said.
Only essential personnel will be allowed on the flights. Boeing will gather data on the batteries as well as the jet's electrical system while in flight, the FAA said.
Boeing said in a separate statement it will use its fifth test 787, known as ZA005, for the flights.
"The company has marshaled an extensive team of hundreds of experts and they are working around the clock focused on resolving the 787 battery issue and returning the 787 fleet to full flight status," Boeing said.
The company expressed regret for the inconvenience customers have suffered due to the 787's grounding. The Dreamliner's launch customer, All Nippon Airways, has canceled all 787 flights through the end of March, the airline said Wednesday. With 17 787s in its fleet, the airline will have scrapped 787s on a total of 1,887 flights by the end of March.
A 787 operated by ANA experienced a battery failure Jan. 15, which prompted an emergency landing in Japan. Japanese aviation officials are conducting a separate investigation into that incident and are sharing information with the NTSB and FAA.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org.