Latest 787 problem increases level of concern

The emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 due to a possible battery fault and report of smell of smoke increases the level of concern surrounding the program.

But we continue to advise caution in drawing conclusions.

ANA, followed by Japan Air Lines, grounded their combined 24 787s for inspection and evaluation. Given that the reports indicate a battery was involved, and following the airport fire in Boston 10 days ago on a JAL 787 involving batteries, the action is prudent.

But the news reports we’ve seen are too ambiguous as to the details of the latest incident.

We are confident that all operators are conducting inspections and Boeing’s customer service team has all hands on deck to support their customers and to try and figure out the facts.

But if there are many more (or perhaps any more) such incidents, we would not be surprised if more than spot, voluntary groundings occur.

62 comments on “Latest 787 problem increases level of concern

  1. So the report in the Times says the responding fire department said there was no fire or evidence of fire, so this may have been a false alarm. Which in itself would be bad since people are apparently that jumpy. Hard to say without more detail.

      • Nope – if you watch the video itself, the guy filming it clearly wants to indicate the pool of liquid under the centre of the aircraft, behind the passenger door. There is also some hazy smoke there!

        As he circles towards the nose it is even more clear that the pool is located directly below the aircraft – it’s not a puddle that just happened to be in the picture.

    • Sorry for my initoal reaction, just logged on.

      Anyway after how the industry reacted irritated at Fridays Boeing PR show, now expect FAA to be razor sharp and uncooperative, as they should be. The G word is back on the agenda.

      Who wants to board UA 787 this afternoon for the next flight to Narita?

      I’m waiting for the fall out.. only losers here, Sad.

      • Initially I was thinking of brake smoke, but it’s the nose gear in front of this bay
        And I see (but i may dream) smoke venting from the belly in this video
        And smoke is reported by ANA is this incident

      • Your flippancy astounds.

        *Something* is definitely leaking out of that aircraft – it doesn’t matter *what* it is, for goodness’ sake. There are fault indications, bad smells in the cabin and stuff leaking when it shouldn’t be. Any way you twist it, THAT IS SERIOUS!

    • To me it looks like early morning evaporation. But this could also be a manifestation of brake overheat. If the incident happened shortly after take-off we can assume that the aircraft was heavy when it landed.

      • I’d go for water wapor at the moment.

        Brakes, high weight: Wasn’t this a local “commuter” flight?

        Passenger numbers were interesting 129 and the
        recent brakes inop flight had ~100 on board.
        Is that a good loadfactor ?

  2. I feel sorry for Boeing and the 787. I think the media are making things far worse.

    Obviously it’s not ideal for such incidents to be happening, but I think Boeing, the airlines and authorities are working hard to ensure the problems are addressed and customer safety is priority.

    Having said that, I think the 787 should be grounded as a precaution. If a 787 comes down because of these issues, it will do untold damage to the reputations of the 787, the airline, Boeing and the FAA etc.

    Better to be safe than sorry.

  3. This latest incident could potentially lead to the grounding of the fleet. In the new media world that we live in, the FAA cannot afford to wait much longer for a crash before it has to pull the certificate. Justified or not. The minimum the agency might have to do is to suspend ETOP flights.

    This aircraft is under the microscope and there are cameras everywhere. Last night before I went to bed I watched the news and this incident was the first news of TV bulletins on various stations. The public might not understand technically what is going on, but everyone is now really concerned and many are frightened.

    It is not only a PR disaster for Boeing; it might also quickly become one for the FAA if it doesn’t handle the unfolding of events adequately. Last week the FAA invited Boeing at a conference where it had no business at all. It not only hurt the agency’s image, but it might ultimately compromise Boeing’s as well.

    • “You’re nearing the tipping point where they need to regard this as a serious crisis,” said Richard Aboulafia, a senior analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

      “This is going to change people’s perception of the aircraft if they don’t act quickly.”

    • ANA has determined the main battery in the 787’s forward electronics section “was discolored and the electrolysis solution had leaked.” Previous problems on 787s involved the electronics bay in the back, not front, of airplane. ANA said the same 787 had experienced battery problems before, according to this Wall Street Journal report.

      Both ANA and Japan Airlines have grounded their 787s for inspections. ANA canceled 35 flights and swapped 787s out for other aircraft on 31 other flights. The carrier also issued this apology to customers.

      Air India said it’s waiting for instruction from Boeing or aviation authorities on what to do with its 787s.

      LOT Polish Airlines is going ahead with its first trans-Atlantic flight using a 787 today.

      United Airlines, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines all have 787s in the air this morning, according to FlightAware.

      ++++

      The above re leaks of electrolyte is NOT good news- which is probably what caused the ‘ smoke” alarm.

      Why that bay is NOT isolated from the cabin re smoke and fumes makes one wonder ???

  4. Everyone is holding his breath and looking at the FAA and NTSB.

    There is a tendency to downplay any 787 incident. Reality is we have smoke in the cockpit, a battery fault alarm, emergency landing and viral authentic evacuation video with the pilot running away with grim on his face. And that for a Japanese.

    You don’t have to be genius to understand UA is considering its options. 4 Passengers with smartphones balking at the gate could pull a switch. If it hasn’t already.

    • “There is a tendency to downplay any 787 incident.”

      Actually any potentially neutral or negative information on the 787 has been smothered in “strategic communications foam” from day one. ( Looks like from the same troupe that has fun dumping on A 24/7. )

      Things coming to a late boil now is direct result of being too “efficient” in that respect.

  5. Uwe :
    I’d go for water wapor at the moment.
    Brakes, high weight: Wasn’t this a local “commuter” flight?
    Passenger numbers were interesting 129 and the
    recent brakes inop flight had ~100 on board.
    Is that a good loadfactor ?

    So ? from twitter
    mavistoh ‏@tohmavis

    ANA says the main battery in the forward equipment bay of its #787 was found discoloured n electrolysis solution had leaked. Story to come.

  6. Uwe :
    Brakes, high weight: Wasn’t this a local “commuter” flight?

    Heavy aircraft or not, we can assume that the brakes were applied with more intensity than they would have been for a normal landing. The fact that the chutes were deployed and the passengers evacuated on the tarmac attests to the urgency of the situation. The pilots also looked quite concerned.

  7. The Poles are taking a robust attitude to the latest incident:

    “We’ve decided to continue operations,” LOT spokesman Marek Klucinski told Polish television. “Today, the Dreamliner will go to Chicago.” … Klucinski said the Polish carrier had been told by Boeing that the problems affecting the Japanese-operated aircraft had been known to the manufacturer and were fixed in jets assembled later, including those operated by LOT.

    • “The Poles are taking a robust attitude ..”

      Last time it cost them a plane full of political hacks.
      Is LOT savety culture significantly better than the national airforce?

      • I am sure it is.

        The interesting comment, assuming something didn’t get changed in the telling, is about Boeing’s knowledge of a specific problem with early build 787s

  8. Maybe a touch of hysteria in evidence.
    The fuel leaks are no more than a quality control/workmanship issue.
    As far as the batteries go, they are quite small. A normal truck battery is about 125 AH, 24V,(28V fully charged), so these 65AH 28V LI-ion batteries must be relatively small as evidenced by the photographs of the damaged Chicago units.
    Without sufficient oxygen there will be no flames, and in the Chicago incident it would seem that flames did not appear until the battery casing was penetrated by the firefighting procedures.
    Perhaps human nature has prevailed and instigated an over reaction to events.
    I am not suggesting there is not a serious issue here, simply that we are seeing a chain reaction to a number of happenings that no one would wish to see but at the same time ought to be put into perspective.

    • Converting just the stored electric energy in the battery to heat
      will increase the temperature ( of this battery) by better than 500°C.
      Not counting combustion or other exothermic reactions.

      • Bit of a roundabout info but
        Aesma on a.net:
        “Not the first time. For example the Lange Antares 20E/23E uses 150Kg of Li-Ion battery packs in the wings, with heaters and coolers to keep them in their optimal temperature range :
        According to Lange those same battery packs are used on the A380, F35, Global Hawk.”

        OK, going to lange-aviation:
        http://www.lange-aviation.com/htm/english/products/antares_20e/battery_system.html
        shows SAFT SAFT VL41M _cylindrical_ Li-ion cells. So now we know what A use. ( And we have info about the Yuasa prismatic cells used from my earlier post )

  9. FF :
    …had been told by Boeing that the problems affecting the Japanese-operated aircraft had been known to the manufacturer and were fixed in jets assembled later…

    Sounds serious if Boeing was fully aware of this problem, and still let the earlier manufacured 787’s continue without modification…

    • For example – this old note from FAA

      The FAA has issues an emergency AD (2011-21-51) for Cessna 525 airplanes. The action was prompted AD was prompted by a report of a battery fire that resulted after an energized ground power unit was connected to one of the affected airplanes equipped with a lithium-ion battery, Cessna part number (P/N) 9914788-1, as the main aircraft battery. This condition, if not corrected, could result in an aircraft fire.

      The FAA says it has reviewed Cessna Citation Service Bulletin SB525C-24-05, dated September 29, 2011. The service information describes procedures for replacing lithium-ion main aircraft batteries, Cessna P/N 9914788-1, with Ni-Cad or lead acid batteries. The agency is issuing this AD following evaluation of all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design. The AD requires accomplishing the actions specified in the service information described previously.

      Within the next 10 hours time-in-service after the effective date of this AD or within the next 7 days after the effective date of this AD, whichever occurs first, replace the lithium-ion main aircraft battery, P/N 9914788-1, following Cessna Citation Service Bulletin SB525C-24-05, dated September 29, 2011. As of the effective date of this AD, do not install a lithium-ion battery, P/N 9914788-1, on any of the affected airplanes.

      +++

      Wonder how long before same applies to 787 ???

  10. FF :
    I am sure it is.
    The interesting comment, assuming something didn’t get changed in the telling, is about Boeing’s knowledge of a specific problem with early build 787s

    What I found:
    2010/0x/0x Nxxx L/N 2 P100 fire
    2013/01/14 JA804A L/N 9 Smoking Battery
    2013/01/07 JA829J L/N 84 Burning Battery

    Then the Jan 7 Boston nonfire 787 is a recent build.
    ( anybody know the registration / L/N of diverted UA bird ? )

  11. FF :I am sure it is.
    The interesting comment, assuming something didn’t get changed in the telling, is about Boeing’s knowledge of a specific problem with early build 787s

    Bingo!!

  12. There is a small irony about this latest incident.

    If there is one positive aspect about the all-electric concept, it is the electrical air conditioning system. On a conventional aircraft the cabin air comes from the engines. That means toxic fumes from engine oil, or other chemicals, can reach the passengers and the crew.

    There are numerous reports of discomfort, even incapacity, following uncontrolled leaks on various aircraft types. For example, the Airbus A380 is having many problems with the quality of air in the cabin. Apparently it is related to the Rolls-Royce engines.

    With an electrical air conditioning system, like we have on the 787, these problems are considerably diminished, if not eliminated all together. Except of course if the fumes come from a burning battery!

  13. I do have concerns about the 787 batteries, but I am inclined to believe that the fluid and smoke in the video is actually water and steam. The Seattle Times report stated the plane made an emergency descent from 30,000 ft, where it would have become very cold. After landing the fuselage would have condensed the water vapor surrounding it and the water flowed to the lowest points and dripped to the ground.

  14. FAA statement:

    As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations. Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.

    The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.

    The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013. The AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery. The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment.

    Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information. In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.

    United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

    • The last sentence of the FAA statement says:

      When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

  15. Reading and thinking about it, it seems there’s no way airlines can quickly prove these batteries are safe. Worrying.

    UA has a large fleet, they can move in other aircraft.

    ANA is different, operating 16 aircraft.. Man, do they pay a price being a launch customer and loyal partner.

    I’m afraid this gives airlines options to change their fleet plans. The FAA will look at much more then the batteries. The processes, delegated certification approvals, pressure applied, etc. Then there’s the NTSB. Sad.

    • We have to keep in mind that the airworthiness certificate has not been pulled, and I doubt very much it will be. This a temporary measure. But it could take some time for the FAA to order the best course of action for the Lithium-ion batteries. It could involve a major rework, if not a major redesign of the whole system. And possibly even a conversion to Ni-Cd batteries.

  16. Unprecedented move by the FAA for a long time. I guess the Indian Govt officials complaining about AI’s Dreamliners were right after all?

    Only good can come out of this latest development I think. Now the serious work of resolving the issue can happen without having to juggle with PR babble which, I think Boeing has not played very well, ever since Sonic Cruiser, 777 the exception, ER especially.

    Question, if you are Boeing, do you halt, slow production now to avoid yet some more re-work on the 787? Or do you carry on regardless? Compensation? Oh Lordy!

  17. SomeoneInToulouse :
    I had forgotten about that story – presumably because it’s not really “many problems with the quality of air”

    SomeoneInToulouse, in the Aviation Week article it is written: “The airline says it has experienced an unusual number of cabin fume events on its A380 services.”

    In my book “an unusual number” is equivalent to “many problems”. If it happened to Lufthansa, I presume it could happen to other A380 operators as well. I also specified in my initial post that the problem was related to the Rolls-Royce engine. In other words it is the engine manufacturer which is incriminated; more than Airbus actually is.

    Regards, Normand

    • It also states that Singapore Airlines has no such problems and implies that Lufthansa is the only one who does. Furthermore, it also states that Lufthansa *only* noted bad smells in the cabin on flights leaving Singapore. That would seem to reduce this to a single combination of aircraft and conditions.

      ONE operator in ONE condition noting an “unusual number” of, basically, a smell…

      That could be a certain local ground handling process, or even individual operator, allowing a bit of oil/fuel to spill in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      And I never heard any more about this issue since that article in the summer – so it obviously wasn’t serious or was easily fixed.

      It’s NOT indicative of “many problems” for the A380/RR at all!

      • Well, if it’s not “many problems” for the A380/RR, it certainly is for the entire industry. This is a recurrent problem throughout the entire fleet of commercial and business aircraft.

        I believe Boeing is offering an elegant solution to this with the electrical air conditioning system. Something Airbus should have considered for the A350, and Bombardier for the CSeries and the Global.

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