Odds and Ends: NTSB on 787 Certification; SPEEA countdown

NTSB on 787 Certification: There were a number of small but important news items to come out of the press briefing Thursday from the National Transportation Safety Board were several references to examining the certification involving the batteries of the Boeing 787.

The Federal Aviation Administration previously announced a full 787 program review about the design, production and systems.We’ve already opined about whether the FAA, Boeing and the suppliers can objectively review their own work.

Congress has already said it will hold hearings, a move for which we hold general disdain.

In our coverage yesterday, we had this paraphrased statement by the NTSB chairman:

We are looking at certification standards, whether they were adhered to and whether they were appropriate. What we have seen in these two events do not comport with any design to protect against the battery events. Those systems did not work as intended. We need to understand why.

But we welcome the NTSB certification review. The independent NTSB, staffed by professional investigators, is far more able to assess the work of the FAA and Boeing than is Congress.

There have been many articles that suggest the entire 787 process was a “rush.” Certainly the original time frame–four years from launch to supposed EIS–was unrealistic. But with nearly four years of delays, we’d be hard-pressed to say the program was “rushed.”

There are those who say Boeing believes the grounding was unwarranted. Gordon Bethune, a former Boeing executive and former CEO of Continental Airlines, was blunt in his view that the FAA over-reacted.

We disagree.

After the first incident, the JAL fire, we took a measured view that the incident could have been a one-0ff and flights could continue. But after the second battery incident, it was clear that the most prudent course was to put the fleet on the ground.

Although the ANA incident did not result in a fire, given the smoke and melting discovered on the ground, we can’t help but wonder if a fire would have occurred had the plane not landed immediately. We shudder to think what the outcome would have been had JAL been at 41,000 ft in mid-flight between Tokyo and Boston. Clearly something dramatic is wrong. As the NTSB pointed out, the systems designed to prevent these things did not work–and the NTSB doesn’t know why.

The grounding is a blow to the corporate and employee pride of Boeing, to be sure. Everyone who can is working overtime to discover what went wrong and how to fix it. Boeing’s customer service is rightly known to be known to be among the best in the industry.

Whether the 787 is grounded to two months, four, six or eight, we know the airplane will be back in the air, safer than ever before.

At the Airline Economics conference we attended last week in Dublin, customers expressed confidence in the 787 and Boeing. There were no hand-wringing and no recriminations, just questions over how long the plane will be grounded. One of the best ways we find over time to gauge opinion is  in these settings, where “cocktail talk” proves to be more candid than seeking official statements from corporate communications departments.

Before the NTSB conference, it was our opinion that the 787 would be grounded for at least two months. We won’t be the least bit surprised if it is longer. But there won’t be any abandonment of the airplane and Boeing will get through this.

After all, Boeing worked through four years of delays and the billions of dollars in cost overruns. A few more months won’t have any long-lasting effect.

And most importantly, nobody lost their lives, nobody was injured (except some usual minor ones in the emergency evac of ANA) and there wasn’t a hull loss.

SPEEA Countdown: The Everett Herald has a good story about the labor dispute between Boeing and its engineers’ union, SPEEA. The last thing Boeing needs at this time of uncertainty over the 787 is a strike, and mid-February is the critical time.


99 comments on “Odds and Ends: NTSB on 787 Certification; SPEEA countdown

  1. No matter who’s fault or what happens, if something happens on a ship, the Captain of the Ship takes charge and fault.

    As “leaders of the ship”, this should have some serious implications for Boeing management. From loss of pay/bonus/options to outright firings. We probably won’t be seeing anything major however in terms of management change (unfortunately)

    Regardless of “who’s at fault”, management makes the “big bux decisions” to deliver products to their customers – if they can’t then they shouldn’t be in the position to be making decisions, etc.

  2. Just read a report from Reuters and it goes like this:Circuit borards that control & monitor the performance of the planes litaium- ion battery unit where chared&may be of little use to the teams investingating why the battery effectively melted forcing investgators to scramble for possible clues from other components in the planes electronics brain.I am just thinking of the program i have seen on N.G ‘Planes that did not fly’ i hope not happen to the Dreamlimer.

  3. Certainly the original time frame–four years from launch to supposed EIS–was unrealistic. But with nearly four years of delays, we’d be hard-pressed to say the program was “rushed.”

    I would disagree, although you may see this as splitting hairs.
    With about 7 1/2 years of time between launch and EIS, there was plenty of time – some work may still have been rushed, though. Bear in mind that Boeing was constantly and significantly behind its schedule from at least 2 1/2 years into the planned 4 year development cycle, if not earlier.
    So for at least 5 out of the 7 1/2 years, there was enormous pressure to get work finished in order to make good on the delays (and minimise loss of face and compensation payments).
    That sort of pressure can certainly lead to work being rushed, despite there being – nominally, assuming everything had been planned more realistically from the beginning – enough time to complete all work without too much of a rush.

    • Nowadays airplane certification takes 7.5 .. 8 years ( CM, on this site some time ago )

      Boeing advertised to be able to compress this into not much more than 4 years.

      However the process was compressed the extension from the delays was exactly that:
      delays. Time were you fix problems from the first 4 years.
      To satirize this a bit :
      The remaining 3.5..4years required for a “quality” certification are still “open”.

  4. There is an article in the WSJ regarding McNearney and Mulally as ‘ leaders”- which is reasonably well written. It does mention the BOD view at the time when Mulally tried to sell the concept- and that the BOD restraints were (in my opinion) were faster and cheaper above all else. This followed the long standing and failed mantra of MDC and GE.

    Some may find this old article of interest re outsourcing


    FWIW -Dan Hartley was a good friend of mine who passed away in March 2004. He and Mulally got along famously – and in 2003 as the 7×7 – 787 was aborning, argued against the then concept of choosing just ONE engine supplier and pushed for a design such that two brands of engines could be relatively rapidly swapped.

    • You mean to say that Dan Hartley was influential in the decision to offer two engines on the Dreamliner, instead of only one? In other words Boeing initially wanted to offer only one engine type, like it presently does for the 737 MAX.

      Anyway, the “quick swap” design aspect of the pylon/engine interface is one of my favourite features on the 787. It’s a neat idea.

      • Norman-re Hartley – yes- Dan was never a manager or supervisor- but was well known and liked by Management- He was a unique Engineer who had contacts at the very highest levels of then Government ! Here is a copy of what a local reporter wrote about Dan when he passed. IT was ALL true.

        Ex-SPEEA president recalled as well-connected, `engineer’s engineer’
        by Chris Genna
        Journal Reporter
        Many at Boeing say the company will miss longtime engineer Dan Hartley.
        Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Alan Mulally was one of those who admired
        Hartley’s no-nonsense political activism.
        A Burien resident, Hartley died Wednesday night — on his 70th birthday — of
        complications from a second heart attack.
        “Dan really was one of my heroes,” Mulally said after learning of Hartley’s death. He had
        visited with the engineer in his hospital room earlier this month.
        “I’ve known him most of my career at Boeing,” the company’s top executive in the
        Northwest said. “He was an engineer’s engineer. He loved Boeing and he loved commercial
        airplanes. … He was a Renaissance man, a student of global trade issues, global
        competitiveness … His ideas were solicited by congressmen and senators and government
        Mulally said he had received an e-mail from Hartley just days before his heart attack
        March 6, and visited Hartley and his family in the hospital March 8. “I’ve been in touch
        with Marian, his wife, almost every day since, just to see if there was anything we could
        Hartley, a Manhattan, Kan., native who retired as a navigator from the U.S. Air Force,
        joined Boeing in 1961. He was laid off for a time at least once, in 1971, and recalled to
        active duty in the Air Force twice.
        He joked that he was “the most-fired guy at Boeing,” said Rick Lentz, who worked with
        Hartley in Flight Test Operations.
        Hartley dove into issues and made himself an expert in such complicated matters as
        international trade and tariff law. Lentz said Hartley followed the careers of politicians
        and bureaucrats and established working relationships with them.
        President Richard Nixon appointed Hartley to a position as citizen adviser to Secretary of
        Defense David Packard, a role he didn’t resign from until the Reagan administration.
        “When I first met Dan, I couldn’t believe he knew all these people,” Lentz said. “But
        he’d show me e-mails he sent and received from these guys and I realized `By golly, he
        really knows about these things.”’
        Indeed, Hartley may have planted the seeds of the idea that the Air Force might lease
        Boeing 767s for use as aerial refueling tankers if the service couldn’t buy them. Lentz
        said he thinks that subject came up when Alaska Senator Ted Stevens called Hartley after
        the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
        Hartley was elected in 1990 — “pretty much out of the blue,” one union source said —
        to the governing board of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in
        Aerospace. (It had a different name then, but was still SPEEA.)
        He was elected president of the white-collar union for engineers and technicians in
        March 1991, serving in that job for two 2-year terms until March 1995.
        “Dan took me on a tour of the Dash 80,” SPEEA Executive Director Charles Bofferding
        said. “I couldn’t believe the depth and breadth of his knowledge.
        “No one at SPEEA can doubt the depth of his commitment to organized labor, to Boeing
        workers,” Bofferding said

      • Common interface at the pylon / engine join is a traditional longstanding Airbus feature. Only nobody uses it for engine
        manufacturer changes for used planes. But the advantage for
        the design process is obvious, isn’t it ;-?

  5. Meanwhile, the good doctor Loren B.Thompson has been offering his “insight”:


    If the FAA hadn’t elected to make this a federal case, most observers would see the Dreamliner difficulties for what they are: the usual startup glitches that occur when cutting-edge aircraft first begin service. In comparison with the wing problem on the Airbus A380, the Dreamliner issues look trivial.

    The fear that exotic lithium-ion batteries in the Dreamliner could constitute an on-board fire hazard may help sell newspapers, but it isn’t grounded in reality. You have to alter the configuration of the battery into something that would never be installed on a plane to get it to burn. Boeing is so confident the battery issue can be resolved quickly that it hasn’t even considered searching for a different power source or supplier. So a year from now, it will be hard to remember what all the buzz was about. The 787 will be selling like hot cakes and Boeing rival Airbus will be struggling to catch up.

    • I expected a more insightful editorial from the Lexington Institute. But it is dated January 18. So I hope Thomson has revised is thinking since. Unless the statement was meant to keep the stock high. ;)

      • It would be interesting to find out what he’s smoking. ;-)

        In the years since James McNerney took the helm at Boeing, the outlook for the company has become better and better. On the commercial side, it is getting more orders than Airbus for the first time in many years because it is building planes that are more reliable and responsive to market needs. You wouldn’t know that from listening to the 787 coverage, but Boeing planes are so much better than Airbus planes that the European company’s A320 still hasn’t matched the reliability of a first-generation 737 — even though 737 is now entering its third generation.

  6. The remainder about Hartley- note Alan M comments

    He became a fixture on SPEEA’s Legislative & Public Affairs Committee — the ideal
    place for a man who thought government officials were neglecting manufacturing and
    technical industries like aerospace.
    He was driven by concern for the next generation, his wife, Marian, said Thursday. One
    of his notes to SPEEA members closed with: “Our children’s generation will do worse
    than their parents’ generation only if we ignore technology.”
    In recent years, he had campaigned intensely to keep industry and jobs at Boeing Field,
    fighting a tendency he saw for the airport to become a hobby airstrip for local
    millionaires’ private jets.
    To that end, he served as a SPEEA representative on a roundtable that developed
    compromise noise rules for business jets that use the field.

    ****As a union activist, Hartley often had sharp words for The Boeing Co. and was often on the other side of the line from management.
    But if that were so, it made little difference to Mulally.
    “Dan adopted some of us,” Mulally said, naming himself and several vice presidents. “He
    told us things we needed to know. … It wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but I never had a hard time
    diagramming one of his sentences to get his point.” *****
    The first time Hartley was recalled to active duty in the Air Force was during the Cuban
    missile crisis in October 1962.
    His son, Mark, was too young to remember it, but he heard his father tell of it.
    “They were at the World’s Fair in Seattle, and they shut it down early because the
    Columbus Day Storm was coming,” the Mark Hartley said. “When they got home, he
    found out he was activated and ordered to some place in Florida. They were flying C-119s
    and they were to be in the first wave dropping airborne troops if we invaded.”
    Hartley also was activated to fly to and from Vietnam. Mark rode along in a C-141 flight
    to Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, in 1970; the return flight was a medevac flight,
    bringing casualties home.
    A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the John Knox Presbyterian Church,
    109 S.W. Normandy Road in Normandy Park.
    Perhaps characteristically, the family requests that any remembrances be donations to
    the Museum of Flight or the new Aviation High School developed with the help of King
    County Airport staff, Lentz said.

    A scholorship in Dans name was established at the HIgh School . . .

  7. “The independent NTSB, staffed by professional investigators, is far more able to assess the work of the FAA and Boeing than is Congress.”

    Why would the congress want to do the job of the NTSB? What will they bring to light that the NTSB will not? On technical matters, zero. But on the political front they can inflict considerable damage to Boeing’s reputation.

    “There have been many articles that suggest the entire 787 process was a “rush.” Certainly the original time frame–four years from launch to supposed EIS–was unrealistic. But with nearly four years of delays, we’d be hard-pressed to say the program was “rushed.”

    I have to disagree with you Scott. I always had the impression that the Dreamliner was rushed from the beginning. Apparently I am not the only one to have that impression. And for some it’s more than an impression, it derives from direct involvement:

    “There are those who say Boeing believes the grounding was unwarranted. Gordon Bethune, a former Boeing executive and former CEO of Continental Airlines, was blunt in his view that the FAA over-reacted.”

    The FAA did not over react. But Bethune certainly did. He should go work for the Lexington Institute, with Loren B.Thompson. They speak with a single mind. Correction, they speak with a simple mind. I don’t mean to be irrespecutful, but I have little respect for individuals who speak with a mercantile agenda on such a dramatic issue.

    “But there won’t be any abandonment of the airplane and Boeing will get through this. After all, Boeing worked through four years of delays and the billions of dollars in cost overruns. A few more months won’t have any long-lasting effect.”

    That ends on an optimistic note and it is refreshing. But just the fact that you had to mention that “there won’t be an abandonment of the airplane” is a witness to the gravity of the situation.

  8. Scott: I am surprised by your: “After all, Boeing worked through four years of
    delays and the billions of dollars in cost overruns. A few more months won’t
    have any long-lasting effect.”
    No other a/p since WW II, other than the DC-10, has ever been grounded
    and the battery problem on the 787 is much more serious AND difficult/time-
    consuming to resolve, because it’s unique and now faulty battery design,
    which could take up to two years to resolve, before the a/p grounding can
    be lifted.
    Neither Boeing nor the airlines, can afford such an additional long delay on
    the 787 in-service date and the consequences of this grounding could, there-
    for very well be catastrophic for all parties involved!

    • The DC-10 grounding was much more serious because it was structual, and not a single system, like the electrical system on the B-787. The failure of the cargo door latching system and later the thrust link failure (because of unauthorized, but wide spread maintenance procedures) resulted in taking out critical hydraulic and electrical systems, as well as structual floor collapse within the cabin (and onto control cables).

      People were killed by the DC-10 design. You cannot say that of the B-787.

      • A bit mixed- the cargo door failure was what took out the floor panels and resultant control cables. The forklift maintenace game on the engines resulted in failure of the engine mounts which in turn ( due to MDC design ) took out hydraulics andf electrical systems. But what REALLY screwed that flight was the then standard procedure relating to max climboout speed. later simulations showed that even with the asymetrical flap- slat configurations AND engine out (gone ) had the pilot NOT throttled back re climbout max speed procedures, he could have retained control and flight., AS soon as he cut back on the one remaining engine, the damaged wing stalled and flipped the plane. So it was a combination of maintenance- design philosophy, and procedures that caused that disaster.

        Compared to that – the 787 issue is NOT good- but not nearly so hard to untangle (IMO).

        I’l bet a battery change will be in order-

        All the monitoring systems that could be applied become useless due to an internal short which ignites the battery.

        The concept of containing such a fire- since its almost impossible to put out is like a band aid on an amputation.

        While changing a battery to one much less likely to burn is not trivial, and willm probably add weight- the loss of a few passengers capability would seem to be minor by comparison.

    • Rudy, are you suggesting that Boeing could not produce and certify an alternative battery scheme in under two years? If the root cause ends up being that elusive, wouldn’t an alternative system be able to be brought forward in much less time than you suggest. The entire process for the panel fire took only six months to resolve. Wouldn’t it seem likely that a suitable alternative battery system could be introduced in a similar time frame?

      • Don’t forget that we don’t even know if it IS a “battery scheme” at the root cause here… an awful lot of random electrical issues have surfaced over the last couple of years… That was also one of the things the FAA investigation was announced to look at *before* the ANA battery meltdown…

  9. Matt B :
    Rudy, are you suggesting that Boeing could not produce and certify an alternative battery scheme in under two years?

    We don’t know how long it would take to get an alternative battery scheme up and running. But it has been estimated by experts that it would take considerably more than six months.

    1- First an alternate battery would have to be selected.
    2- After that a new battery system would need to be designed around that battery.
    3- Then that alternate system would have to be certified.
    4- And finally the airplane would have to be re-certified with the new battery system.

    All this cannot possibly be accomplished in a matter of months. It would take well over a year in the best possible scenario.

    • Rudy, Matt, Normand et al, let us all remember that once a new battery and installation are certified for and-on production, Boeing will also have to design, produce and certify retrofit kits for all previously-built aircraft.

      The retrofit kit math is fairly horrifying. According to planespotters.net, as of the end of 2012, 84 787’s had been produced. The first seven will never be delivered; of the remaining 77 aircraft about 50 were in service when the fleet was grounded; the remainder were in the rework pipeline to be brought up to production standard. If Boeing continues to ramp up production from 5/month to 10/month over the next year that will result in around 80 more undeliverable aircraft. So if the airplane is down for all of 2013 that = 157 retrofits. Longer than that? Don’t even think about it..

      Boeing’s retrofit cost will be non-recurring for the design and certification plus recurring for no-charge kits to the customers plus reimburse each customer for their down time and labor hours to install each kit. Then settle [probably quietly out-of-court] each customer’s lawsuit for lost revenue for all the time their 787’s were grounded.

      Let’s hope that Boeing still has the in-house engineering expertise to quickly find the
      cause[s], design a CERTIFIABLE production fix, and then apply their much-deserved retrofit AOG skills to get the in-service and stuck-in-Everett fleets up and running.

      Let us also hope that the senior executives who made the 787 program’s many idiotic technical and management outsourcing decisions at long last have the courage to take the responsibility and the blame for their bad choices, and resign from Boeing never to be heard from again. Starting at the very top. Not b——y likely mate, but one never knows, do one?.

      • You make me realize that I should have added a fifth phase about the implementation of a new system across the existing fleet, along with newly manufactured aircraft. It would go like this:

        5- We must add to this a schedule to modify the existing fleet, including the manufacturing of new parts.

        And I would also add to my conclusion:

        And if we add the implementation phase, we can easily double that.

      • Boeing has a standing Retrofit Army ready.

        Would we actually expect Thales to provide information in this?
        ( I haven’t noticed anything from Thales, coulld have overlooked )

  10. Matt B.
    Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting because, if the existing and ONLY
    battery manufacturer who was willing to build the now defective batteries,
    took two years to develop these defective ones and either redesigning the
    whole 787 electrical system or designing new batteries, could take at least
    that long to come up with a new design.
    Neither the airlines who bought the a/p, nor Boeing can afford to wait that
    much additional time, to put the “grounded” a/p in service!
    Therefore, I regrettably see this “battery problem” as a potential catastrove
    for all parties involved!

  11. With a bit of Fri afternoon quarterbacking based on a few published comments re circuit board charring –

    It would seem to me that as design criteria which would allow damage to control circuitry in case of a possible-probable battery fire ( from internal causes ) to be affected is missing the forest for the trees. Why would anyone allow critical control circuitry/boxes/boards to be in the same ***supposedly isolated***’ compartment ” with the battery ?? seems to me that anything within fire – smoke- melting – radiation area would be likely to suffer damage which could only increase the bad effects.
    Normally people do NOT store their old newspapers in front of the family fireplace since an ember might set them off, etc.

  12. It appears that everyone is convinced the battery or its controls is the culprit.
    Can anyone visualize a situation where the battery etc.is in fact the victim, and the root cause lies elsewhere.
    I remember the original diesel electric ships were DC and uses a control system called Ward Leonard.
    Not sure how they do it now, but direct reversing propulsion motors occasionally caused issues due to the change of polarity when going astern(backwards).
    Maybe an electrical engineer could throw up some ideas as to possible causes from the aircraft systems creating a feedback. In AC of course reverse power is protected by a relay and is common to most AC switchboards.

    • I think that the NTSM found things like shorts inside the battery, but said they didn’t know if they were looking at the cause or the symptom. They are not ruling anything out at this stage.

      Several posters have indicated the possibility of some sort of feedback like you pointed out. It wouldn’t be surprising, considering the complexity of the 787 electrical system.

  13. It’s a 63 lb battery, and yes Lith Ion has more power density. But couldn’t you take say 2 777 batteries in place of the 787 one along with its charger. I am thinking as an interim to retrofit the 50 already in service. The 4 chargers / controllers on the battery have some extra weight there.

  14. One poster has asked a couple of times whether the battery is being used as a buffer for flight control systems or not. IF it is, and remembering that the charger itself uses a processor to calculate the exact amount of charge it can put in the battery, then what is buffering the charger? I don’t believe that you can have a small system like an aircraft’s el system that will keep a stable voltage while any number of el motors are being started or stopped. The result is havoc for any data processing systems, unless they are well bufered, and buffering costs weight, which is what Boeing are trying to avoid. Maybe they skimped a bit on the buffering in a few areas, making the whole thing a bit more unstable than they planned.

    • Stability is one aspect. The other one is that the charger has to provide measured juice to the batterry while imu it also has to power its 28V bus. The charger has to do perfect, errofree computation of current draw for all sinks. as power provided by the charger minus power sunk by devices is the resultant energy pushed into the battery.
      Errors here in conjunction with the charging strategy as patented will overcharge the battery.

      Still open: why do the batteries have significantly reduced service life ?

  15. Anybody can easily (and should) read sites such as http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/5670187/
    Among what experts call “trolls”, There are very knowledgeable people contributing .
    I am no Li ion battery expert, but what i understood is that there are many different types of Li IOn according to the metal of the Cathode, and i am not sur that Boeing selected the safest. Actually they selected the most efficient, which is also the most tricky to monitor.
    Another important point is the way the battery is monitored by the BMS battery Management system, the safe way to do is never to load to 100% of potential, and never to unload to 0%, as this increases the risk of thermal runaway. The safe way is to load to 75% and never go below 25%.
    Two nasty points: 1/ Heavier; in order to have the same usable capacity, you double the size
    2/ More expensive, you also increase the cost significantly
    Guess what is the solution chosen by BOEING?
    Just to give a cue: if you use this safer monitoring, the battery’s life can go up to 10 years, if you chose the other option, it is considerably shorter, could be less than 1 year.
    Do anybody remember how long lasted the first battery of the ANA Firebird???
    Another point stressed by these knowledgeable people in airliners net: the BMS must monitor each cell, in order to balance their load, otherwise, it is unstable, the most loaded will charge faster, increasing the risk of thermal runaway, and also the weakest will decharge faster, with the same consequence. The BMS records what it does.
    Were the SECURAPLANE BMS records usable? Personally, i doubt…. Otherwise we should have understood what happened a long time ago….
    I believe that these records have been usable as long as batteries were fine, but when the battery “change colour”, they just melt away….
    All this you can read in this site, if you wish to understand the situation, i strongly advise you to do so.

    So action plan is as follows:
    1/ Change cathode metal
    2/ Have four batteries instead of 2, used between 25 and 75% of theorical capacity
    3/ Locate BMS out of containment system
    And in the future, locate batteries in a special compartment…..DREAMLINER.2???

    Take the opportunity of this grounding to go a bit further, Solving this battery issue will require some time, which can also be used to solve other potential issues.
    Boeing should swallow its pride, and
    1/ask to people who know, they are ready for help!
    For instance:
    AIRBUS electric specialists, SAFT, european certificators.
    As my grandmother said, Better one who knows that ten who do not know!
    2/ask some old retired safe pairs of hands to come back and bring their expertise, JIM ALBAUGH, VINCE WELDON, etc…
    They will bring ideas for additional checks, as this grounding must be the last (another one and the 787 is killed; and Boeing ,dead and buried.)

    Vince will certainly ask for flying ZA prototypes in tropical storms for hours on end, to accumulate lightning experience….
    Some additional tail strike testing could be useful as well….
    And also strikes by ramp vehicles (as a reminder:” a large number of people using equipment in a relatively small area, often under considerable time pressure, creates an environment in which aircraft and equipment can, among other things, be damaged. Undetected aircraft damage from ramp activities, whether to metallic or composite structures, can cause in-flight emergencies. In December 2005, for example, an Alaska Airlines MD-80 that had
    departed from Seattle for Burbank, California, experienced a sudden cabin depressurization. After the aircraft safely returned to Seattle, it was discovered that a ramp vehicle had punctured the aircraft fuselage, but the incident had not been reported.”)

    all this followed by extensive deep non destructive testing of the frame, as it is the only way that the frame is still in good condition.
    I am fully awware that composite NDT is awfully slow and costly, but the beauty of composites is that visual checking is not worth one dime, VINCE knows!

      • If the press announcements from the time after FF are correct the chemistry has already been changed once (after initial use the batteries died inside of 6 month . The change
        was projected to extend service life to 4 years.)

  16. Several points worry me. Mostly that the integrator engineers combined with subcontractors, OEM, NTSB and FAA specialists at full force, with all evidence available, were not able to identify the cause of these incidents within a week. How transparent is this technology?

    Also the recovery actions and periods that are suggested. The damage could be enormous, nobody is helped by them, even Airbus is bracing for impact.

    From what I’ve seen it seems Boeing design hang a lot of essential systems on a few very powerfull batteries and they put a lot of critical systems together with them in a small place.

    It seems they had a very high confidence level those batteries could never cause any trouble. Looking at the background of this battery technology that might have been very optimistic.

    Optimism beating realism was/is, in my opinion, one of the root causes of the many program troubles sofar. Blind optimism, driven by pride, stock holders, competition, pushing aside “obstacles” like doubts, critics, delaying double checks, unneccessary backups.

    • The most important statement in this affair imo is the NTSB openly questioning the aircraft’s certification shortly after taking a look into this mess.

      Be prepared for a complete redesign of the battery, its control/monitoring and charging systems, and lengthy testing and certification.

      I’d be surprised if the 787 got paxes again in 2013.

  17. Uwe :
    Common interface at the pylon / engine join is a traditional longstanding Airbus feature. Only nobody uses it for engine manufacturer changes for used planes.

    Boeing says an engine type swap should take 24 hours on the 787. Can Airbus accomplishes the same feat? If the answer is yes, on which aircraft type? And if nobody uses it, why would Boeing make a such a big fuss with that feature?

    Unless you mean to say it’s part of the same old propaganda. ;)

    • 24h was the initial bigger than life advertisement from Boeing for the Dreamliner.
      Last time I read anything on this topic the time required had extened significantly.
      ( more like something you would do during a bigger check. )

      Having a common interface at the engine is prudent from an engineering view as well as from a clear partitioning view. To the pylon tip is airframer responsibility and engine make agnostic. engine makers also have a clear physical as well as responsibility line to work on.
      No idea why US manufacturers went with the hodgepodge of mixed responsivility adaptive pylons. Hmm, because engines were grafted on from different military projects were this was never an issue? no idea.

      Boeing upped this by the 24h boast and advertised as
      “First airliner with a common engine interface that allows changing in 24h”
      note the qualification and yes it is another piece of propagandistic usurpation.

    • I’ll believe it when a single customer attests to it.

      Otherwise, it’s just the same hot air that seems to prevail in some aircraft manufacturer’s senior management heads.

  18. If it is confirmed that essential control and diagnostic modules for the batteries are located very near or even _inside_ the battery containment then I won’t have too much confidence into the 787’s design!

    If this were the case, I’m 100% sure that the NTSB won’t be content with just putting another containment around the existing one. That would be containment stupidity to the square, times two (same battery in both E/E bays).

    • One rumor says the charger software was updated.
      Another one talks about the batteries being from the same batch.
      ( and the older bird having got the original one replaced recently )
      All guesswork. But with the incidence rate observed the chance to
      loose both batteries during one flight was no longer negligible is my guess.
      ( Whatever else the consequences )

  19. keesje :
    From what I’ve seen it seems Boeing design hang a lot of essential systems on a few very powerful batteries and they put a lot of critical systems together with them in a small place

    If we delve into the Apollo 1 tragedy we can draw parallels with the Dreamliner. What happened to NASA at that time is proportionally similar in scope to what is happening to Boeing right now. Incidentally, tomorrow January 27 will be the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire.

    Following the accident, the Apollo program came to a complete standstill. Flights resumed only after more than twenty months. The Apollo spaceship was completely redesigned and made better than ever. I believe that’s what’s going to happen with the 787. But at a great cost.


    Normally these fundamental revisions happen only after human lives have been lost. We are lucky that the 787 battery incidents unfolded the way they did. The Boston incident happened shortly after a twelve hour flight over the Pacific Ocean. And the ANA incident quickly developed after take-off, but the airplane was able to make it back to the airport safely.

    But what is troubling is that the incident in Boston and the one in Japan happened only a few days apart. Which reminds me that the two Comet crashes, which also brought the de Havilland programme to a complete standstill, happened only a few weeks from each other.

    keesje :
    It seems they had a very high confidence level those batteries could never cause any trouble. Looking at the background of this battery technology that might have been very optimistic.

    Until not too long ago we could read this on the Boeing website:

    “You can be sure that Boeing will never use an advanced technology if it compromises the level of safety already achieved.”

    Now we know why they removed that statement from their website. It is simply because it is no longer true. The Ni-ion technology indeed compromises the level of safety that was already achieved by the Ni-Cd technology.


    • Still, in the middle of all this sits the outsourced chicken that came home to roost.
      Outsourcing at Boeing but also outsourcing at the FAA. A fickle technology, a fasttalked certification and supervision process all glued together by spectacular marketing.

      IMHO the Apollo1 and Comet comparison is less fitting than the later shuttle accidents and Kathrina. The first two though avoidable in hindsight actually entered new territorry while the latter two are graced by existing systems having been hollowed out into dysfunction.

    • Going by the datasheet for the Yuasa cells pressure relief “Burst Plate” is in one the small sides of each cell. ~3MPa burst pressure is what I found.
      Looking at the “nudie scanner” photos that the ntsb provided the cells are
      packed tightly into the battery enclosure and now show significant expansion.
      The burst plates are obstructed and if they do manage to burst the release of
      electrolyte will evacuate into the box shorting out the other cells helping with sympathetic thermal runaway.

      The design effort to channel electrolyte discharge in a less harmfull way would have been minimal imho.

      Ancillary find: Nasa Doc for Yuasa LI-Ion qualification for space ( though a different cell design ):


  20. Normand Hamel :
    Impressive performance! But he should have barrel rolled it as a tribute to his predecessor.

    A bit of history – Tex claimed it was a chandelle –

    Another bit – About 40 years ago- a friend of friend of mine was at a small private party. He was the chase pilot ( one of two assigned at the time ) since the dash 80 was on a test flight that day. His version follows – – -His task was to stay a few miles behind the dash 80 in a bailed ( f-86 or t-33 forget which ) and keep tabs using ‘ gun cameras ” . He did NOT know about tex plans other than the flyby over the hydroplane races. So he was essentially following in trail every move.

    As the dash 80 went past about 80 to 90 degrees, h e followed and realized that if the -80
    came apart he would be upside down at low altitude and could not avoid any debris!

    So he started to call mayday ….. Tex came on and said ‘ shutup kid ” . . .

    When they landed, the FAA ( equivalent at that date ) wanted to ground the chase pilot AND TEX. They claimed that the chase pilot HAD to have known ahead of time.. and thus was complicit. What saved him was the recording of his aborted mayday call.

    Somewhere in the deep archives are the gun camera films.

    BIll Allen demanded at the time that the chandelle- roll be kept out of the papers, and nevefr mentioned it until he retired.

    Of course the problem was that over 50,000 people along the south shores of lake washington to watch the hydroplane races witnessed it. !!

    • Yes, technically I guess it can be called a chandelle, because he came in low and fast over the Bay area and pulled a 35 degree climb; and while ascending he rolled it, twice.

      • At first- Bill Allen and a few others thought that somehow Tex had to make that manuver because of some unforseen ‘ problem ” – That thought lasted only a few minutes until he came back and did it again !!

    • Don and Normand – I’m not sure how we got from batteries to barrel rolls, but I must strongly dissent from all this gushing admiration for the late (1914-1998) Tex Johnston.

      When Boeing’s Board of Directors authorized the Dash-80’s construction in April 1952, they literally bet the company. The Dash-80 was a one-of-kind airplane, built entirely with Boeing’s funds. Tex Johnston’s Dash-80 barrel roll was arrogant and irresponsible narcissism, putting his own ego ahead of his responsibility to Boeing. It was intended more to show off his piloting skills than the airplane’s capability. Tex certainly had larger than life flamboyance to spare, but so what? The Dash-80 was NOT his airplane so he had no right to treat it as such.

      Although Tex was not fired, his Boeing career never recovered. He left Boeing Flight Test in 1960 for non-flying jobs in the Dyna-Soar, Minuteman and Sarturn programs. He left Boeing in 1968. Had it not been for his chosen flight path on August 7th 1955, who knows what his career could have been?

      Many years ago I had the honor to work with one of Boeing’s legendary experimental flight test pilots, about whom some had said “he’s the world’s greatest test pilot – just ask him.” However, once he strapped himself into the left seat, he, like his colleagues from before his career until now, would put aside his ego and fly the airplane with the utmost professional skill, precision, and caution.

      • I cannot argue with such an objective assessment. And what you say is pretty much in line with what Allen thought at the time.

        You mentioned that “When Boeing’s Board of Directors authorized the Dash-80′s construction in April 1952, they literally bet the company.” They did the same in the sixties, under Bill Allen again, and bet the company on the 747’s construction.

        Today, instead of investing in new products to stay on top of the game, they prefer to buy back stock to keep the share value up. That’s a sure path to destroy an Icon.

      • The effect was “betting the company”.
        Did they actually vote for “betting the company” or was that an unexpected and unpleasant sideeffect?

  21. Fit hitting Shan in Forbes NYT article re 787


    An interesting side note – in the 70’s and 80’s – several BA managers/executives became enamored of Toyota just in time concepts. And on the 767- the Japanese quality was near impeccable on body sections shipped in.

    Of course everyone ignored the real secret behind the quality game- Dr Deming who for years was a pariah in the U.S.

    For the Toyota method to work, one must have absolutely trustworthy and capable suppliers as part of a REAL team.

    Now Boeing is cranking up teams to push on their suppliers to cut costs by XX percent while producing faster.

    Ignoring History can have very Bad Consequences !!

    • McArthur brought Deming to Japan into a by culture very receptive environment.
      For the Deming method to work you must be a trustworthy and honorable leader.
      If there is vacuum instead …

      How much bullshit does japanese business and politics tolerate
      and what happens when the lid finally “goes off” ?

    • In regards to the 787 program, the only thing that ever came “just in time” was the Japanese grounding of all the aircraft.

  22. Uwe :
    McArthur brought Deming to Japan into a by culture very receptive environment.
    For the Deming method to work you must be a trustworthy and honorable leader.
    If there is vacuum instead …
    How much bullshit does japanese business and politics tolerate
    and what happens when the lid finally “goes off” ?

    I believe the operative word for the leader(s) is ” sipiku”

    Instead we have the operative words ” platinum parachute ” or

    ” resigning for personal reasons ”

    Neither culture is likely to apply in the Chicago Towers near term

    Cuz ” dont try to change horses in mid stream ” or ‘ head em off at the pass”

      • Just see a C-Net report that the Boeing 787 is grounded until at least 2014 so that will make a big do-do of Air India’s plan of flying the 787 on the 17 february 2013 maybe they got the date wrong on the report yesterday???? or did A.I let the cat out of the bag?

  23. Don Shuper :
    At first- Bill Allen and a few others thought that somehow Tex had to make that manuver because of some unforseen ‘ problem ” – That thought lasted only a few minutes until he came back and did it again !!

    “On the very night of his dressing-down, having lived to fly another day, Johnston showed up at Allen’s house in Seattle’s Highlands neighbourhood for a cocktail party and dinner with aviation luminaries. Allen planned to turn and give Johnston the cold shoulder.

    But before Allen could say or do anything, Eastern Air’s garrulous head, Eddie Rickenbacker, the onetime Flying Ace and Medal of Honor winner, went up to Tex Johnston, grabbed his Stetson, and pulled it down over his ears.

    “You slow-rolling son of a bitch!” Rickenbacker shouted joyfully at Johnston. “Why didn’t you let me know you were gonna pull that? I would have been riding the jump seat!”

    Rickenbacker turned to Allen. “Damn, Bill!” he said. “That’s the way to get attention with a new airplane!”

    From “The Jet Age” by Sam Howe Verhovek.

  24. Let’s do a simplified risk calculation. The 787 fleet has some 100,000 flight hours until now. There have been 2 severe battery failures with customers until now. So that’s a severe failure rate of 2/100,000.

    We have two of these batteries on a single 787. Assuming that the failures of those two are uncorrelated (an optimistic assumption as there could be electric effects and the batteries might com from a single production batch), the occurrence of a double failure has a rate of the single failure rates multiplied, i.e. 2/100,000 * 2/100,000 = 4/10,000,000,000 = 4 * 10 ^-10. That is the rate per flight hour.

    Now, what may be interesting is the occurrence of a double severe failure on an average flight. Assuming the average flight duration to be 10 hours, you get 10 * 4 * 10^-10 = 4 * 10^-9.

    Thus the rate of a severe double failure of both batteries on an average 787 flight comes in at 4 * 10^-9 ! Note that with a correlation of battery failures, the rate will be much higher.

    • So what are the odds of having a female president in the White House the next elections using your simplified “risk” calculation? Statistics are not so meaningful with so few observations. But glad to see that you are taking correlation into account..

      • This wasn’t meant to be a precise statistical analysis. But I think it serves to show that at this rate, double battery failure for itself could already approach a probability that could be unsuitable for an ETOPS 330 aircraft.

  25. Uwe :
    If the press announcements from the time after FF are correct the chemistry has already been changed once (after initial use the batteries died inside of 6 month . The change
    was projected to extend service life to 4 years.)

    The way you write that brings up an interesting point… I wonder if the 6-month battery life was expected or if they were actually surprised by batteries “dying” during certification.

    • Experienced ( either from prototype flying or the iron bird.)

      If the expected service life would have been in the range of 6 month
      the product ( or use mode ) would have been completly unacceptable for the intended purpose. See, Lithium-Ion is advertised to have longer life and less maintainance than previous tech. Now burning batteries on a revolver changer are anything but .. ;-)

      IMHO 4 years is still too short and indicates continuing abuse.
      If your product life is significantly reduced your are hugging the parametric envelope.
      Too hot too much current, volate spikes, whatever. And if you are so close to the borders you are also liable to go over those borders into instant product degradation.

  26. I don’t know, just looking at the battery box and the interior, to me it comes over as “cheap” in both meanings of the word. Just a feeling…

    • I totally agree, a metal box with lid held in place by a simple band, not quite the containment container I expected. No seals, no safety valves, no defined vents, no internal compartments to separate different batteries.

      And on top of that: electronics in the same box. I do not know exactly what they are, but why place _any_ battery related controls in the containment zone? Or any electronics at all for that matter.

      It all makes me go: “Hmmm.”

  27. Sven :
    Let’s do a simplified risk calculation. The 787 fleet has some 100,000 flight hours until now. There have been 2 severe battery failures with customers until now. So that’s a severe failure rate of 2/100,000.

    NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman:

    – “We do not expect to see fire events on board aircraft.”
    – “A troubling implication complication of both the JAL 787 incident and All Nippon Airways 787 battery event was the timing of the battery failures within 100 flight hours of service by both aircraft.
    – “Two battery events in two weeks in the early flights of this aircraft are not what we expect.”
    – “One of these events alone is serious; two of them in close proximity, especially in an airplane model with only about 100,000 flight hours, underscore the importance of getting to the root cause of these incidents.”

    JTSB Chairman Norihiro Goto:

    The fact that such electrical system-related incidents would occur consecutively, purely from my perspective, could not have been expected.”

  28. SomeoneInToulouse :
    Don’t forget that we don’t even know if it IS a “battery scheme” at the root cause here…

    I have no technical basis to support this, but I always had the intuition that the 787’s humongous electrical system was taxing the battery somehow.

    • Recognize (as you no doubt will) that this question comes from a totally naive conception of the electrical issues presented by the 787’s more electric architecture, but…

      What role, if any, can/does the grounding body of the airframe itself play in leveling the loads and allowing for clean current to be provided to systems that need it? Is it possible that the simple combination of a much bigger electrical system with a significant reduction of the grounding mass of the conductive material in the airframe results in a greater occurrence of spikes, etc that would only manifest itself in the plane itself?

      Relatedly, I think the seeming coincide of the two occurrences within ten days may be less coincidental than it appears. Consider,
      * nearly half of the 2012 deliveries occurred very late in the year, and
      * earlier deliveries had spent much more time in flight testing than later deliveries (apparently they were finding and fixing issues)
      * the resulting increase in revenue flight activity had really just kicked in by mid January.

      With 50 frames in service, flying an average of 14 hours per day, you would be accumulating ~700 flight hours per day. Half of those hours with planes that had less bugs worked out in testing. In the 9 days between incidents, the fleet would have flown (if I remember correctly) substantially more hours than the entire flight testing program did. This may be obvious to industry folk, but it surprised me when I considered it.

      • “.. grounding body of the airframe itself play in leveling the loads .. ”

        No definite information on Dreamliner.
        But going away from hullstructure as return will increase
        (inductive) impedance of the ground return path.
        You will may see funny differential voltages induced
        from large source and switching.
        In my field of experience a major haslle.

      • Thanks for your comment Matt. New ideas like that will nourish the discussion.

        If they find no manufacturing defects on the batteries themselves, they may have no other choice but to look into this kind of phenomena.

        There are three major innovations on the Dreamliner and they may interact in unforeseen ways with each other:

        1- Composite structure.
        2- Massive electrical system.
        3- Li-ion batteries.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the electrical environment into which the aircraft flies (clouds, lightnings, aurora, etc.) had an impact on the stability of the flow of electricity inside the aircraft. And stability is particularly important with Li-ion batteries.

Leave a Reply: Note Reader Comment Rules

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s