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.

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

  1. “include spacing the battery cells; adding some rigidity to prevent shifting from vibrations and interfering with electronics”

    That to me looks like a complete new battery and may imply a larger footprint. I hardly see how this could be a simple swap and quick fix???

    • This battery exist !

      Just ask the Saft, to spare some A350 battery awaiting, this somewhat delayed plane !
      These battery may be already certified !
      Boeing may have to find some space to plug 2 Saft, replacing 1 Yuasa … and they can begin trials ASAP to move on positively !
      I do not think tuning the chargers, is rocket science …

      This may be done in one or two month, to get a practical working solution !
      Monitoring & controls, may be more complicated to adapt !
      Certification is another story too….

      I’m quite sure, the actual Yuasa Battery, will not fly more ….at least in this package !

      • Think about what is tightly coupled in with the battery in the Dreamliner. Charger, APU Starter, how do you join two batteries, management software,
        .. sounds more like a heart transplant than a new hipjoint.

        Anyway and unbeknowst of there being saver architectures
        battery degradation in the existing design is very high.

        Boeing will have made a big step if they find and are able to
        fix that abusive use.
        ( Too hot, condensation, .. . actually I have my doubts that they are clueless about the why and how. I can’t believe highly regarded engineers could be so blithely ignorant of what happens. )

    • There was quite a bit of space around the battery pack in the EE bay racks, from what I could see in the pictures. I imagine they’re keeping the same cells and circuit-boards, just making the box a bit bigger and stronger, putting some shock-absorbing spacers around the corners of the components (allows a bit of cooling air-flow as well) and doing something different with regards to moisture.

      I wonder if the plastic cap they put over the tops of the cells was gathering condensation… nasty place to have drops of water falling from… onto the high-voltage contact points… the same ones that seem to have arced and eroded…

      • Forgot to mention flexible bus-bars between the cell terminals as well… let’s things vibrate without breaking the terminal/electrode contact!

      • JTSB seems to think that there was a short of some kind from a cell interconnect to the cell enclosure and/or the battery enclosure.
        “grounding strap” separated ( as in burned up ) by overload.

  2. I agree, six to 18 months and if so, what are the airlines going to do to supply
    their required capacity, if anything, but request compensation from Boeing!
    Fortunately, Boeing is in very strong financial position due to massive earnings
    on the 737 $ 777 programs.

    • No wonder our economy is in such a bad shape if people are in constant denial:
      Boeing Commercial Airplanes made a loss of almost $4 billion in 2012 under unit cost accounting, i.e. the 787 and to lesser extent the 747-8 losses more than ate up whatever profit was made on the cash-cow 737 and 777 programs. Even under program cost accounting, which spreads cost over an unprecedented, purposely bloated block size of 1,100 airplanes, only a modest single-digit gross margin is assumed, with overhead and R&D not factored in. It will be interesting to see what white rabbit, read write-off, Boeing is going to pull out of the hat to avoid moving into a forward loss position on the 787 program.

      • How big would the unit cost account loss be for just the 787 ( or the 748 )
        My understanding was that Boeing was collecting immense riches just from selling 737 and 777 frames?

  3. The whole article seems to be available here:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288020674930066.html

    And more from Reuters:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/07/us-boeing-dreamliner-battery-idUSBRE9151CN20130207

    In Tokyo, one official said Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough in the U.S. battery probe. “The investigation will continue as scheduled. Resuming flights in March … seems far too optimistic to me,” said the official who didn’t want to be named as the investigation is ongoing.

    One source familiar with the investigation told Reuters that Boeing engineers sprang into action “almost immediately” after the first battery incident to ensure the company could meet special Federal Aviation Administration-approved conditions to allow lithium-ion batteries on the aircraft. “They can’t afford to sit around with their planes on the ground,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

    • “.. Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough ..”

      remember the viewed as premature presentation from the NTSB
      for the “no fuel” BA 777 landing preempting the investigation lead?
      ( the FG flight savety guy was pretty irate )
      US institutions tend to not be good teamplayers.

  4. According to J Ostrower and his gang at WSJ, Boeing have interim fix. So they know what the problem is? Might it not be an idea to inform the Japanese and US investigators? How can you fix an unknown problem? More self regulating, self certifying? Or just more Boeing PR? Hard to see the wood from the trees

    • Boeings proposal for an interim solution is putting the problem in a box.
      They are ( afaics ) not selling this as a fix to the problem at the source but as a fix to the insufficient containment.
      Also, if you have not enough data available to come to an investigative result you are forced to get more data from excercising the system. thus fly the plane and try to find a scheme to force the issue.

      This would be my way. No idea if Boeing with the same activity follows completely different objectives ;-)

      Now what I see in reporting is that it begins to show fractal attention dissolution.
      More details are exposed in ever faster succession but there is no picture being built.

      Last bit was : certification data can not be matched to recently aquired data from available specimen.
      not original, but go from there: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2013/02/07/dreamliner-ntsb-concern-over-variation-in-boeings-battery-data-and-what-it-has-found/

  5. So no more root cause finding, just get them in the air asap containing with a bigger box.

    FAA credibility on the line?

    The NTSB is finding different test results on the batteries then Boeings self certify tests. Could create some new fall out..

    http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/source-ntsb-question-dreamliner-battery-adequately-tested-boeing/t/story?id=18422464&ref=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.crikey.com.au%2Fplanetalking%2F2013%2F02%2F07%2Fdreamliner-ntsb-concern-over-variation-in-boeings-battery-data-and-what-it-has-found%2F

    • do they actually say that they want to fly for testing a fix?
      or more like
      1: we want to fly ( to get more data and wait for rapture )
      2: we have an interrim fix in the works that could be flown.

  6. george kejval was asking earlier today in a three-week old thread why Li-ion batteries are not safe on airplanes but are ok in cars.

    One obvious reason is that the safety requirements are more stringent for aircraft. Because unlike for a car, if something goes wrong you can’t just pull over with the aircraft, unless you are taxiing.

    In the case of the Dreamliner, there might be reasons that are specific to the battery system architecture that was designed for the 787, and the technology that was retained.

    Some casual, and others not so casual, observers have identified a number of potential design flaws with the 787 system. I will try to list a few that come to my mind and will invite anyone to add or subtract to the list for the benefit of those who would like to have a summary of where we are with our collective thinking on this “hot” topic.

    1- Boeing (via Thales?) selected the Lithium-Cobalt variety, which is the most unstable among the various Li-ion technologies.

    2- The cells are too big, which makes it difficult for heat to quickly dissipate. A larger number of smaller cells would be more desirable.

    3- The battery design might be too compact and would therefore not provide enough ventilation inside.

    4- The battery might be underpowered, which would make it work a little harder, with almost no margin. The so-called 101% maximum. In other words the battery works almost at 100%, with a maximum permissible of 101%, which gives a margin of only 1%.

    5- All the power is concentrated in a single battery unit, instead of being spread among several smaller battery units. The proverbial “all the eggs in the same basket”. If a thermal runaway is initiated it will spread to the entire array.

    6- The battery containment vessel appears to be too flimsy to be able to safely sustain a thermal runaway.

    • One of the more memorable moments in High School chemistry class was when the teacher dropped a pellet of lithium metal into a beaker of water. It flashed, because the chemical nature of Li is extremely reactive to water.

      When weather changes quickly in simple, everyday environments like our homes or cars, windows fog up; i.e., water begins to accumulate in liquid form. The environment of flight experiences rapid transitions, too, such that a Li-ion battery at cruise altitude for hours, suddenly parked at sea level on the BOS ramp, would be inclined to suck moisture out of the air and into liquid droplets.

      So, is it possible, that the current Li-ion battery design enables water condensation, then contact with metallic Li, and thus allows the initiation of a simple Li-H20 reaction, which then runs away? If so, can the system be properly closed to prevent water condensation, or, if not, can we find enough hard evidence that Li is a bad idea on aircraft?

      The most compelling concern I have thus far seen about Li batteries on aircraft was stated by a pilot flying polar routes, noting the huge distances to nearest airport. It simply does not seem acceptable to expect we can fully contain the energy of one of these fires and continue flight for hours. History has shown time and again that airborne fires mandate an urgent landing. Can we really engineer the use of Li such that, a 787 northwest of Hudson Bay can report to base that a battery just fried, and it is just a clerical note?

      • Provided the cells are intact ( i.e. hermetically sealed ) there is no way to bring condensation in contact with lithium internal to
        the cell.

  7. Uwe :
    Provided the cells are intact ( i.e. hermetically sealed ) there is no way to bring condensation in contact with lithium internal to
    the cell.

    Yet the NTSB continues to investigate the possibility of moisture “contamination”.

  8. Rensim :
    This battery exist !
    Just ask the Saft, to spare some A350 battery awaiting, this somewhat delayed plane ! These battery may be already certified !

    Rensim or others, there is something I need to clarify about the A350 battery set-up. My understanding is that there are four batteries on the A350, which are all located together in the forward compartment below the cockpit.

    Questions:

    - Where is the APU battery?
    - Is it part of the four-battery cluster?
    - Does the APU use only one battery unit, or more than one?
    - If the APU battery is located in the front, is this not too far from the APU?

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