NTSB: Plane batteries not necessarily unsafe

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WASHINGTON -- Despite a battery fire in one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and smoke in another, the kind of batteries used to power the plane's electrical systems aren't necessarily unsafe -- manufacturers just need to build in reliable safeguards, the nation's top aviation safety investigator said yesterday.

Deborah Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman, said she doesn't want to "categorically" rule out the use of lithium ion batteries to power aircraft systems, though it's clear that safeguards failed in the case of a Japan Airlines 787 that had a battery fire while parked at Boston's Logan International Airport last month.

"Obviously what we saw in the 787 battery fire in Boston shows us there were some risks that were not mitigated, that were not addressed," Hersman told reporters. The fire was "not what we would have expected to see in a brand new battery in a brand new airplane," she said.

The board is weeks away from determining the cause of the Jan. 7 battery fire, she said.

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Boeing received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly one of its 787s today from Fort Worth, Texas, to Everett, Wash. The permission for a single flight is for the purpose of relocating the plane, and is not a test flight, the FAA said. Still under consideration is a separate Boeing request to conduct test flights, the agency said.

Company spokesman Marc Birtel said Boeing is also trying to find the cause of the incidents: "We are confident -- as is the FAA -- that the 787 is safe to operate for this activity." -- AP

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