Fast-moving action on 787 in advance of NTSB briefing Thursday

There have been a number of developments within the past two hours on the Boeing 787 situation. Unfortunately, the key articles are from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

  • Boeing has a series of design changes it is proposing to the FAA to serve as an interim fix to mitigate fire risk until a permanent solution is found. The WSJ reports that these include spacing the battery cells; adding some rigidity to prevent shifting from vibrations and interfering with electronics; eventually shifting to a new battery altogether; fire containment; and more.
  • The WSJ reports that the FAA also wants longer warning times to alert the crew to any problems.
  • The paper reports the FAA was still weighing approving a test flight; we heard on the radio after the WSJ posting that this has been done.
  • The paper says Boeing hopes to be able to ship new batteries to airlines with grounded airplanes by the end of this month. This might mean flight resumptions in March.
  • Moisture protection is also an element of the interim fix.

The WSJ also reported that the NTSB is examining the FAA’s approval and testing process, but we don’t consider this to be particularly new news.

The NTSB has a briefing Thursday at 11am EST. We’ll doing live updates on this blog.

SPEEA posts YouTube video; vows to return to table if Strike Authorization OK’d, contract rejected

SPEEA, the Boeing engineers’ union, posted a YouTube video this afternoon explaining why negotiators are recommending rejection of Boeing’s contract offer and why they are seeking a strike authorization vote.

If members side with the negotiators, SPEEA vows to return to the bargaining table under the supervision of a Mediator to try and reach an agreement before going out on strike. SPEEA says Boeing inserted a “poison pill” into its Best and Final Offer. Also focuses on what is called the Scrap the Cap issue.

KC-46A contract “restructure,” Blue Angels grounded in Sequestration (very local to Seattle)

The US Air Force will have to “restructure” the USAF KC-46A tanker contract with Boeing if Sequestration hits on March 1, according to a new document issued today. The document doesn’t indicate what “restructure” means, but we’d guess the fixed price deal that won Boeing the contract will eventually become a lot more expensive to taxpayers.

Very localized to Seattle, Sequestration also means the Blue Angels will likely be grounded by the Navy as well. This aerobatic group has been a staple of the local Sea Fair for decades, and has been a key in public relations for the Air ForceNavy. While we acknowledge the Blue Angels have nothing to do with readiness, since we live in Seattle, and this is our blog, we get to be highly provincial once in a while.

787 to cost Boeing $6bn in cash-UBS; more on lithium-ion batteries

Update, 7:30am PST: Headline: DJ Boeing 787 Probe Results ‘Probably Weeks Away’ -NTSB Chief

We’re trying to track this down, which we received in an email. (We don’t get Dow Jones.) This seems to us like good news–”weeks” instead of “months”–but we caution about reading too much into this until we get the context.

Update, 7:50am PST: AP has this brief report. “Weeks” instead of “months” does seem encouraging but this sounds like a statement of facts rather than any hint at a breakthrough.

NTSB will have a press conference tomorrow at 11am Eastern.

Reuters has this story.

Here is a story from the Christian Science Monitor yesterday on the batteries.

Original Post:

787 to cost $6bn in cash: So forecasts UBS Securities in a research note today, and this doesn’t really consider the Boeing 787 grounding yet. Writes UBS:

  • See 787 as $6B cash drag in 2013: Even assuming a relatively quick solution to battery issue, we still see 787 as a worse cash drag in 2013. We estimate 787 is a ~$6B cash drag in 2013 with ~$7B inventory build more than offsetting ~$1B advance draw assuming Boeing learns like it did on 777. Our forecast is worse compared to Boeing’s outlook for a similar 787 inventory build in 2013 as in 2012 ($5.7B) while extended 787 grounding would result in an even bigger cash burn.
  • Cash drag could be worse if battery issue lingers: As long as 787 remains grounded, Boeing is faced with the choice of either slowing production or building physical inventory. It will build inventory for now and we see risk to its $4B+ FCF [free cash flow] guidance on this. Boeing plans to deliver 60+ 787s this year, while we estimate every missed delivery adds $100-120M to our baseline forecast for a $6B 787 cash burn.

Retrospective: Here is the press release from 2005 announcing the selection of lithium-ion batteries for the 787.

Boeing presentation about lithium-ion batteries: In November 2012, a Boeing official made this presentation about these batteries in the context of transporting them in cargo holds.

Among the information on the slides:

Energetic failures (fire and/or explosion) of lithium type cells can occur for a number of reasons including:

  • Poor cell design (electrochemical or mechanical)
  • Cell manufacturing flaws
  • External abuse of cells (thermal, mechanical, or electrical)
  • Poor battery pack design or application
  • Poor protection electronics design or manufacture
  • Poor charger/system design or manufacture resulting in Overcharging of battery

Independent Study: We’ve now linked Airbus and Boeing presentations about lithium-ion batteries. Here is an independent study–all 126 pages of it–about the topic. This is not about aircraft batteries but the principals are the same.