By The Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – A Boeing plan to redesign the 787 Dreamliner’s fire-plagued lithium-ion batteries won…
WASHINGTON – A Boeing plan to redesign the 787 Dreamliner’s fire-plagued lithium-ion batteries won approval Tuesday from the Federal Aviation Administration, moving the cutting-edge planes a step closer to flying passengers again.
The plan includes changes to the internal battery components to minimize the possibility of short-circuiting, which can lead to overheating and cause a fire. Among the changes are better insulation of the battery’s eight cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system, the FAA said in a statement.
The FAA statement didn’t provide an estimate for when the grounded planes might return to service. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who was briefed by the agency, said that if all goes well, the FAA could give final approval by mid- to late April for the 787 to resume flight.
Boeing would still have to retrofit the 50 planes already delivered to eight airlines in seven countries, Larsen said in an interview. That could mean the plane wouldn’t return to the skies until late April or early May, he said.
First, Boeing’s redesigned batteries have to pass a series of 20 separate tests lab, Larsen said, then flight tests would follow.
“If there’s any one test that isn’t passed, it’s back to the drawing board for that particular part of the tests,” he said.
So far, test flights of two 787s have been approved — one with a complete prototype of the new battery, the other with only a new, more robust containment box for the battery, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said.
The plan is an outline for a recertification of the plane’s batteries, the FAA said. The 787 has two identical lithium-ion batteries, one of which is located toward the front of the plane and powers cockpit electrical systems, the other toward the rear and used to start an auxiliary power unit while the plane is on the ground, among other functions.
Every item that is part of an airplane, down to its nuts and bolts, must be certified as safe before FAA approves that type of plane as safe for flight.
The 787 fleet worldwide has been grounded by the FAA and civil aviation authorities in other countries since Jan. 16, following a battery fire on a Dreamliner parked in Boston and a smoking battery that led to the emergency landing of another 787 in Japan.
“This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”
The airliner’s troubles have raised concerns that the FAA has ceded too much responsibility for evaluating the safety of new aircraft to manufacturers. To save manpower, the FAA designates employees at aircraft makers and their subcontractors to conduct the safety testing of new planes. Boeing’s battery testing concluded that short-circuiting wouldn’t lead to a fire and that the chance of a smoke event was one in every 10 million flight hours.
Instead, there were two battery failures when the entire fleet had clocked less than 52,000 flight hours.
The FAA’s approval of Boeing’s plan “is a critical and welcome milestone toward getting the fleet flying again and continuing to deliver on the promise of the 787,” Jim McNerney, the aircraft maker’s CEO, said in a statement.
The 787 is Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced plane. Its grounding on Jan. 16, an enormous black eye for Boeing, marked the first time since 1979 that FAA had ordered every plane of a particular type to stay out of the air for safety reasons.
UBS analyst David Strauss estimated that the 787 will cost Boeing $6 billion this year. Besides the battery problems, the plane already costs more to build than it brings in from customers.
United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier with Dreamliners in its fleet. It has six, plus another 44 on order. American and Delta have also ordered 787s. Boeing has orders for more than 800 of the planes from airlines around the globe.
Steven Udvar-Hazy, CEO of Air Lease Corp., which has ordered 12 of the planes, said it could still take months for the plane to fly again and that a very long-term grounding could damage the 787 Dreamliner brand.
“It’s important to get the airplane back in the air,” Udvar-Hazy said while attending an airplane finance conference in Orlando, Fla. “Every plane has mechanical issues, but this was one that was considered serious by the authorities and I think Boeing has done everything it can to get that under control.”
Udvar-Hazy has had weekly updates from Boeing’s CEO of commercial airplanes, Ray Conner, and daily conversations with others at the airplane manufacturer. He has then relayed that information to his airline customers around the world.
“Boeing has been very transparent and I think they’ve made a very concerted effort to address this issue … to come up with a fix that hopefully is a permanent fix, not just sort of a Band-Aid solution,” he said.
Boeing plans to begin test flights within days, Birtel said. The new battery design will be tested on a plane that has been identified elsewhere as being built for LOT Polish Airlines. Boeing also plans to fly a 787 that is used exclusively for testing. That plane has the stronger battery box, and will also be used for unrelated engine tests.
Before the fire on Jan. 7, Boeing shares had closed at $77.69. They closed as low as $73.65 three weeks later, after the planes had been grounded. But the shares have been recovering as anticipation grew for a battery fix. Boeing’s gains have outpaced the strong rise in the Dow Jones industrial average, of which Boeing Co. is a member.
On Tuesday, Boeing shares rose $1.22 to close at $84.16, and rose another 28 cents to $84.44 in aftermarket trading.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 9:18 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – The U.S. government should reassess its safety approval of the Boeing 787′s…
WASHINGTON – The U.S. government should reassess its safety approval of the Boeing 787′s lithium ion batteries, America’s top accident investigator said Thursday, casting doubt on whether the airliner’s troubles can be remedied quickly.
Switching to a different type of battery would add weight to the plane — and fuel efficiency is one of the 787′s main selling points.
Boeing received permission Thursday to conduct test flights under limited circumstances with special safeguards — a critical step toward resolving the plane’s troubles. The airliners have been grounded for the past three weeks. Boeing needs to be able to test the batteries under flight conditions before a solution can be approved.
The flights will be conducted over unpopulated areas, and extensive pre-flight testing and inspections and in-flight monitoring are required, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating last month’s battery fire in a Japan Airlines 787 “Dreamliner” while it was parked in Boston. The results so far contradict some of the assumptions that were made about the battery’s safety at the time the system won government approval, said the board’s chairwoman, Deborah Hersman.
The NTSB investigation shows the fire started with multiple short-circuits in one of the battery’s eight cells, she said. That created an uncontrolled chemical reaction known as “thermal runaway,” which is characterized by progressively hotter temperatures. That spread the short-circuiting to the rest of the cells and caused the fire, she said.
The findings are at odds with what Boeing told the FAA when that agency was working to certify the company’s newest and most technologically advanced plane for flight, Hersman said. Boeing said its testing showed that even when trying to induce short-circuiting, the condition and any fire were contained within a single cell, preventing thermal runaway and fire from spreading, she told reporters at a news conference.
Boeing’s testing also showed the batteries were likely to cause smoke in only 1 in 10 million flight hours, she said. But the Boston fire was followed nine days later by a smoking battery in an All Nippon Airways plane that made an emergency landing in Japan. The 787 fleet has recorded less than 100,000 flight hours, Hersman noted.
The plane that caught fire in Boston was delivered to Japan Airlines less than three weeks before the fire and had recorded only 169 flight hours over 22 flights.
“There have now been two battery events resulting in smoke less than two weeks apart on two different aircraft,” Hersman said. “This investigation has demonstrated that a short circuit in a single cell can propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire. The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered.”
All 787s have been grounded since Jan. 16. With no end in sight, the halt has become a nightmare for Boeing, which has about 800 orders for the craft from airlines around the world. The company’s customers were already frustrated that the 787 was more than three years late when the first one was delivered toward the end of 2011.
Boeing loses money on each 787 it delivers, and the cash burn grows with each missed delivery, analysts have said.
Investigators are still trying to determine why the first battery cell short-circuited, but the board’s findings appear to raise doubts about the thoroughness of FAA’s safety certification of the 787′s batteries and whether Boeing can remedy the problems with the addition of a few quick safeguards. The FAA typically delegates testing of new aircraft designs to the manufacturer, while overseeing that the tests meet the agency’s requirements. The agency also relies to some degree on the expertise of the manufacturer’s engineers, especially in the case of a cutting-edge plane like the 787.
Following the fire at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta ordered a review of the 787′s design, certification, manufacture and assembly. That review is still under way.
“We must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward,” LaHood and Huerta said in a joint statement Thursday. “The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service.”
But John Goglia, a former NTSB board member and aviation safety expert, said NTSB’s findings mean the government will likely require Boeing to re-certify the batteries.
“Certifications aren’t exactly painless and quick,” he said. “It could be a big, drawn-out thing.”
The significance of the NTSB’s findings “is if this can happen — and the safety analysis assumed that it would not happen — then the safety analysis is no longer valid,” said Jon Hansman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor and a member of the FAA’s Research and Development Advisory Committee.
Battery experts said Boeing could try to build more safeguards into the battery by using a greater number of smaller cells and putting more insulation between them. Or, they said, the aircraft maker could switch to a different type of lithium ion battery already approved for aviation. Some business jets use lithium ion batteries as their main batteries.
Switching to another type of battery, such as lead-acid or nickel-cadmium battery, is another possibility, but that would involve changing the charging system as well, they said. The new batteries — and, presumably, a revised charging system — would need to be designed and tested by Boeing and approved by the FAA before they could be installed.
Boeing issued a statement saying it is working to address questions about its testing and compliance with certifications requirements, “and we will not hesitate to make changes that lead to improved testing processes and products.”
The same day as the emergency landing in Japan, FAA officials ordered the only U.S. carrier with 787s — United Airlines, which has six of the planes — to ground them. Aviation authorities in other countries swiftly followed suit. In all, 50 planes operated by seven airlines in six countries are grounded.
The 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium batteries. Besides being lighter, the batteries recharge faster and can store more energy than other types of batteries of an equivalent size, and can be moulded to fit into odd spaces on planes. The Airbus A350, expected to be ready next year, will also make extensive use of lithium ion batteries. Manufacturers are also looking to retrofit existing planes, replacing other types of batteries with lithium ion.
But lithium batteries in general are more likely to short-circuit and start a fire than other batteries if they are damaged, if there is a manufacturing flaw or if they are exposed to excessive heat.
In 2007, the FAA issued special conditions that Boeing had to meet in order to use lithium ion batteries in the 787, because at that time the agency’s safety regulations didn’t include standards for such battery systems.
The 787 relies to a greater extent than any previous airliner on electrical systems, as opposed to hydraulic or mechanical ones. The batteries help run those electrical systems and also are used to start a power-generating engine in the rear of the aircraft.
The batteries are made by GS Yuasa of Japan. Japanese aviation investigators probing the cause of the ANA battery failure have also found there was thermal runaway.
Investigators have ruled out mechanical damage or external short-circuiting as possible causes of the initial, internal battery short-circuiting, Hersman said. Investigators and technical experts are now looking for evidence of flaws inside the batteries like pinches, wrinkles or folds, she said.
“We are looking at a number of scenarios,” Hersman said, including the state of charge of the battery, its manufacturing processes and the design of the batteries.
“We haven’t reached any conclusions at this point,” she said. “We really have a lot of work to do.”
By Joan Lowy, The Associated Press - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 4:43 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Despite a battery fire in one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and smoke in…
WASHINGTON – Despite a battery fire in one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and smoke in another, the type of batteries used to power the plane’s electrical systems aren’t necessarily unsafe — manufacturers just need to build in reliable safeguards, the top U.S. aviation safety investigator said Wednesday.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said she doesn’t want to “categorically” rule out the use of lithium ion batteries to power aircraft systems, even 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 in an interview. 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 still weeks away from determining the cause of the Jan. 7 battery fire, Hersman said.
The 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium batteries. Aircraft makers view lithium batteries, which are lighter and can store more energy than other types of batteries of an equivalent size, as an important way to save on fuel costs. The Airbus A350, expected to be ready next year, will also make extensive use of lithium ion batteries. Manufacturers are also looking to retrofit existing planes, replacing other types of batteries with lithium ion.
But lithium batteries are more likely to short circuit and start a fire than other batteries if they are damaged, if there is a manufacturing flaw or if they are exposed to excessive heat.
Investigators are also looking into the special conditions the Federal Aviation Administration required Boeing to meet in order to use lithium ion batteries to power the 787′s electrical systems, she said.
A government-industry advisory board that works closely with the FAA issued testing standards for lithium batteries used in aircraft operations several months after the agency had approved a separate testing regime for the 787′s batteries.
“What happens is that when an aircraft is certified it basically gets locked into the standards that were in existence at the time,” Hersman said. Oftentimes, tougher standards will come along later, but aren’t applied to already-approved aircraft designs. “Those are issues we do look at regularly in our investigations and it is something I’m sure we will be focusing on with the battery,” she said.
Investigators have been working very closely with the FAA on a review the agency has under way of its sanctioning of the 787′s certification for flight, Hersman said. The FAA awarded the certification in August 2011.
“We are evaluating assessments that were made, whether or not those assessments were accurate, whether they were complied with and whether more needs to be done,” she said. “I think that is important before this airplane is back in the air, to really understand what the risks are and that they’re mitigated effectively.”
Nine days after the battery fire in Boston, another battery overheated on an All Nippon Airways 787, leading to an emergency landing in Japan. The same day, FAA officials ordered U.S. carriers with 787s — there’s only one, United Airlines, with six planes — to ground the planes. Aviation authorities in other countries swiftly followed suit. In all, 50 planes operated by seven airlines in six countries are grounded.
The 787 is Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced plane. The groundings have become a nightmare for the company, which has about 800 Dreamliner orders from airlines around the globe.
Boeing was already spending more money on each 787 it built than it collected from airlines who bought it. On Wednesday, UBS analyst David Strauss estimated that Boeing will spend some $6 billion in cash this year on the plane, while an “extended 787 grounding would result in an even bigger cash burn,” he wrote.
“As long as (the) 787 remains grounded, Boeing is faced with the choice of either slowing production or building physical inventory. It will build inventory for now,” he wrote. Boeing already has about 46 787s that have been built but not yet delivered. Many of those were built early on and require more work before they can be handed over to customers.
Boeing currently builds five 787s per month. After the groundings it reiterated its plans to boost production to 10 per month by the end of the year, and said it planned to deliver at least 60 of the jets this year.
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 10:46 PM - 0 Comments
TOKYO – Japan’s All Nippon Airways says it replaced lithium-ion batteries on its 787…
TOKYO – Japan’s All Nippon Airways says it replaced lithium-ion batteries on its 787 Dreamliners 10 times before a battery overheating incident led to the worldwide grounding of the jets.
ANA spokeswoman Megumi Tezuka said Wednesday the airline was not required to report the battery swapping cases to Japan’s Transport Ministry because they did not raise safety concerns and did not interfere with flights. Boeing was informed.
She said the batteries were replaced because they failed to charge properly or showed other problems.
All 50 of the Boeing 787s in use around the world were grounded after an ANA flight on Jan. 16 made an emergency landing in Japan when its main battery overheated. Earlier, a battery in a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire while parked at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
By The Associated Press - Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 9:22 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Federal investigators say the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that experienced a battery fire…
WASHINGTON – Federal investigators say the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that experienced a battery fire earlier this month was delivered to Japan Airlines less than three weeks before the fire.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday in an update of its investigation of the incident that the airliner was delivered on Dec. 20. It had only recorded 169 flight hours and 22 flights when the fire erupted in one of the airliner’s two lithium ion batteries on Jan. 7.
The fire occurred at Logan International Airport shortly after the plane landed. NTSB said the battery was manufactured by GS Yuasa of Japan in September 2012.
A second battery incident led to an emergency landing by another 787 in Japan on Jan. 16. The 787 fleet worldwide has since been grounded.
By Joan Lowy And Joshua Freed - Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Lithium batteries that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires have emerged…
WASHINGTON – Lithium batteries that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires have emerged as the chief safety concern involving Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a problem that apparently is far more serious than government or company officials acknowledged less than a week ago.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration late Wednesday grounded Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jetliner until the risk of battery fires is resolved.
The order applies only to the six Dreamliners operated by United Airlines, the lone U.S. carrier with 787s. But other airlines and civil aviation authorities in other countries quickly followed suit.
Japan’s two largest air carriers voluntarily grounded their 787s on Wednesday ahead of the FAA’s order following an emergency landing by one of the planes in Japan. Continue…