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United Restarts 787 Dreamliner Flights

The first Boeing 787 flight since they were grounded for battery problems lands at O'Hare Airport. (Credti: Steve Miller)

The first Boeing 787 flight since they were grounded for battery problems lands at O’Hare Airport. (Credti: Steve Miller)

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(CBS/AP) – United Airlines has its 787 dream liners back in the air, four months after the FAA grounded them because of an overheating battery issue. WBBM’s Steve Miller was at O’Hare when the first flight came in from Houston this afternoon.

On board the flight was a 17-year-old aviation blogger named Jack Harty, who lives in Houston and writes for Airways Magazine.

Harty says he wants to be an airlines executive someday but for now as a young blogger, he likes a good scoop and he says he had no qualms about getting on the Dreamliner.

“I was excited. I was counting down the days and the hours,” said Harty. “It was put into the reservation system on May 4, but United didn’t publicly announce it until about 10 days after so I was able to break the news sooner,” said Harty.

The Dreamliner is designed to be more fuel efficient and the feature that most passengers talk about is the big windows whose tint shades the cabin without having to pull down a shade.

17-year-old aviation blogger from Houston Jack Harty. (Credit: Steve Miller)

17-year-old aviation blogger from Houston Jack Harty. (Credit: Steve Miller)

The incidents that led to the grounding never caused any serious injuries. But the January grounding embarrassed Boeing, which makes the 787, and disrupted schedules at the eight airlines that were flying the planes. The company had delivered 50 of the planes worldwide.

The grounding forced United to delay planned international flights and hurt its first-quarter earnings by $11 million. Others, including Japan Airlines and South America’s LATAM Airlines Group, also said profits were reduced. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews and maintenance. It expects to resume flying soon.

United is planning to use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flights on 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,” David said.

United Continental Holdings Inc. was the first U.S. airline to get the 787 and now has six. United has said it expects to have four fixed by Monday, with the other two getting their batteries modified in coming days.

The 787 uses more electricity than any other jet. And it makes more use of lithium-ion batteries than any other jet, because it needs to be able to provide power for things like flight controls and a backup generator when its engines are shut down. Each 787 has two of the batteries.

Boeing Co. never did 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 where 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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)