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United resumes domestic flight of Boeing 787

United Airlines is getting its 787s back in

United Airlines is getting its 787s back in the air. This Boeing 787 Dreamliner arrives Monday at O'Hair Airport outside Chicago, one of the first 787s that returned to the air after being grounded for four months by the federal government because of battery flaws. (May 20, 2013) Credit: EPA

United Airlines put its 787 back in the air 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.

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 CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney were on board 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 U.S. 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.

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. United was forced to delay planned international flights, and the grounding reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million.

The two battery incidents in January included an emergency landing of one plane, and a fire on another. 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 incidents never caused any serious injuries. But the January grounding embarrassed Boeing and disrupted schedules.

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