Odds and Ends: A350 production boost; 787 ‘Super Box’ and political influence; Boeing’s JAL monopoly

A350 production boost: Airbus wants to boost production of the A350.

787 ‘Super Box‘: In the harshest assessment we’ve seen so far of the Boeing 787 situation, BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake characterizes the proposed containment box for the lithium ion battery as a “super box” and Boeing’s entire proposed solution as a Rube Goldberg approach.

Leake writes:

We view Boeing’s “Super Box” proposal as a reverse Rube Goldberg contraption that attempts to solve a very complex problem with an overly simple solution. We believe there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again, but if the NTSB plays the safety card in its upcoming interim report (which we think they will), the Super Box strategy will be a hard sell for weak-kneed politicians who will care less about the arcane rules of aircraft certification, and more about the open-ended political exposure of supporting a rush job. Worse, we believe the very powerful, but instantly credible, pilot unions will soon weigh in against any solution that contemplates a “contained fire” of any kind. This issue has unfortunately become very political, and we believe the 787 crisis is far from being resolved.

Boeing doubled down on its Lithium Ion battery system by proposing modifications that purportedly address the risk of thermal runaway and the more critical issue of smoke and fire containment. Using a “Super Box” concept (our term), Boeing hopes to divert attention from how the previous system performed—or did not— and instead focus on a fortress approach that can deal with worst-case battery fires, regardless of their cause. Congressional sources cited in media reports state that Boeing is adamant that this is a permanent fix and no alternative solution is being pursued. Given the original battery system is being modified, even if for the better, some degree of re-certification will be required.

Kudos to Boeing engineers for constructing this kludge in short order, but we view the Super Box as a reverse Rube Goldberg contraption that attempts to solve a very complex problem with an overly simple solution. We believe there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again, but if the NTSB plays the safety card in its upcoming interim report (which we think they will), the Super Box strategy will be a hard sell for weak-kneed politicians who will care less about the arcane rules of aircraft certification, and more about the open-ended political exposure of supporting a rush job. Worse, we believe the very powerful, but instantly credible, pilot unions will soon weigh in against any solution that contemplates a “contained fire” of any kind.

All we can say is, “wow.”

Sole sourcing not preferable, says JAL: The grounding of the 787 may provide an opportunity for Airbus in Japan, where it has had decades of poor sales, if this article is any indicator.

67 comments on “Odds and Ends: A350 production boost; 787 ‘Super Box’ and political influence; Boeing’s JAL monopoly

  1. Super Box ? How about instead we call it MDC in a Box or MAC in the Box or McNearney in a Box – sealed with Duckit tape and labeled with post it notes – Keep out

  2. An aircraft contains many design solutions for problems which are supposed to never happen. I think the Boeing idea isn’t truly the way it should be, but for the time being it is a suitable one. Further, the whole “containment system” can easily be demonstrated (burn the entire battery). A system fix that prevents any future fires is difficult to demonstrate.

    By the way: this sounds like a second life for LN001 & LN002. Any news of their status?

  3. I have the feeling substantial A350-1000 orders/conversions are upcoming.

    AF/KLM, UA, SQ but also other large 777-200ER operators might have a look. E.g. AA, BA, JAL, ANA and the airlines like QF, LH, the Chinese Airlines..

    Another interesting quaetion is where and extra A350 FAL might be located. TLS, or .. ?

  4. I have to agree with this article. The ‘Super Box’ solution is ‘Kludge’.

    I know the engines of an aircraft have to be designed to ‘contain’ a blade off, but the chances of a blade off event are well known. Also, when a blade comes off, engine manufacturers know what is likely to happen and have a lot of experience on how to contain such an event.

    This battery ‘Super Box’ is a ridiculous solution to a problem no one fully understands yet. Are airlines really going to be happy with the solution too? Knowing that batteries could be exploding left right and centre albeit in a contained manner. What about their schedules when these planes are all stranded with no spare batteries to replace the exploded ones? And what about any damage incurred to the wires and cables that are connected to these batteries?

    Someone, somewhere in Boeing must be smoking pot!

    • Mexian Gold? i had some years ago in Oregan & what a trip that was with a head banging C.D of Neil Young but i did not design the battery after the trip.

    • why would there be no spare batteries, Why do you say they’ll explode – they just burn.
      The whole point of blade-off containment is that we don’t know all the causes of a blade off, can’t predict them and thus must protect against them.
      The whole point of Li-Ion battery failure is that we don’t (yet) know all the causes, can’t (yet) predict them and thus must protect against them.

      never hear of limited life items? they are replaced regularly and cause no problem…

      • Li-Ion batteries can and do explode if subjected to inappropriate conditions.

        They will burn, but they can also explode with devastating consequences. The battery on the ANA 787 burst open because of pressure building inside it.

        Actually, blade off events are well understood. The reason they have to be contained is so that the fuselage and wing are protected from high speed shrapnel. Engine makers understand blade off events so well now that engines rarely have them, and when they do – the engine and its casing are so well designed that such an incident is not really an incident at all.

        The point I was making about spare batteries is that airlines would need to have sufficient batteries in place at all of the airports they serve, or else an aircraft would be stranded if such an incident occurs.

      • Under pressure an overstressed vessel explodes.
        ( Yuasa cell burst plates seem to go at 600++ psi )

        “unknown” properties:
        Cessna and Boeing have trouble with the technology because they abused it. Not because it is tech so new and fickle you can’t savely work with it ( if that, why did Boeing select it ?)
        Cessna did not reckon with mechanic dumbness.
        Boeing internalised this and took an unprecedented naive approach.

        limited life items:
        Similar cells from SAFT provide for 20 years servicelife or 3000 SAE cycles.
        If you heed the manufacturers manual

  5. “In the harshest assessment we’ve seen so far of the Boeing 787 situation, BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake characterizes the proposed containment box for the lithium ion battery as a “super box” and Boeing’s entire proposed solution as a Rube Goldberg approach.”

    Not only the harshest, but also the most sensible one.

  6. Boeing will propose certification of the containment box based on comparison to two cylindrical devices hanging off the wings that contain fire for the whole of the flight ;)

  7. The engineering leadership that made the decision to pursue this sole solution (rather than this and retrofitting already FAA approved batteries) have done a great disservice to the customers. If the FAA doesn’t approve this containment system, Boeing will be months behind in devising a Plan B. This smells of leaders trying to defend an earlier decision (to go with lithium) rather than trying to figure out multiple solutions for the customers.

  8. there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again


    Boeing is adamant that this is a permanent fix

    Not OK.

    If Boeing would only admit it needs to take time to understand the bigger problems, then everyone would be sympathetic. I really don’t understand their handling of this!

  9. I think Carter Leake has produced a very good assessment. I especially appreciate the mention of the pilots unions, which reflects an important reality: you cannot reasonably design a ‘containment’ solution without getting real acceptance from the responsible officials who are on-site and impacted. If I was a 787 pilot, all that training and experience would not enable me to say ‘OK fine’ to my airline employer, if they said, ‘yeah, it might catch fire, but it will be OK in this superbox’.

    In a ways, this latest shows Boeing concurring that they produced a failed design within a system aided and abetted by failed safety oversight. As such, this is another excellent example of regulatory capture. Odd that the same officials who want to scare us about sequestration delays at airports also want us to not worry about a controlled fire in a box! Go figure…

  10. Well – in one way the McBox makes sense in that IF a fire happens, it should be contained or in such a place that NO other systems/electrical/ etc are affected- which includes passengers and BTW the pilots.

    However- that is not a solution but a ‘ safety feature ‘ just in case.

    The real problem cause may never be found- but the FACT that whatever happened ignored the approved multiple safety systems supposedly in place and was the expected result of a battery failure will ALWAYS be in the minds of the customer- passengers-industry.

    I have yet to see- hear of any real reason to NOT use well proven batteries such as LI-X or NI-cad or similar even so and stick them in said box.

    Even that may not be sufficient to appease public perception – but it would be a hell of a lot easier to promote – ‘ an extra layer of safety for the 1 in 1 biilon or so chance that this well proven battery might go runaway- which has not happened in xx years and yy million hors of service in ZZ conditions and Bucu airplanes since orville and wilbur retired .

    When given a lemon – try at least to make lemonade and serve it from an adult lemonade stand instead of haveing Rube Goldberg and Forest gump as spokespersons.

  11. Hmm, with the way things are going fro the 787 — in addition to Airbus boosting monthly A350 production to say, 18 per month by 2019 — I wouldn’t be surprised to see A350 cumulative production having overtaken 787 cumulative production in about that time period.

    • It’s clearly advantage Airbus. As long as Airbus don’t have to delay the A350 beyond expected EIS they are getting time to catch up to Boeing.

      If they can produce the A350 at 18 per month, they could see customers beginning to switch from the 787 to the A350.

      If I was a Boeing customer, I would be very unhappy with their lack of sincerity with the 787 issues. At the end of the day, Boeing should be showing more leadership and a strong command of the situation, but instead they seem to be trying to rush out a fix which isn’t a fix at all.

      When the A380 had the engine blow out, Airbus took charge and ensured their customers knew what was happening. When the A380 had the wing rib issue, Airbus took charge and ensured their customers knew what was happening.

      I work in customer service, and the most important thing a customer wants (based on Customer Satisfaction Survey’s) is to be kept fully informed of the situation. Constant communication.

      This is clearly not happening though, because British Airways still expects their first 787 aircraft in May and Air India expects to have their 787’s flying again in April. Yet, the previous article on this blog suggests it will be at least 8 weeks from any FAA Approval (which could be months) for the fix to be implemented/tested.

      There is miscommunication somewhere.

      • matjamca :
        If they can produce the A350 at 18 per month, they could see customers beginning to switch from the 787 to the A350.

        I doubt Airbus would be willing to match the pricing those early 787 customers received from Boeing …

      • Well, it is like one of those saving accounts where you make a moderate downpayment into the bank and the bank will give you interest and after some years “standoff” give you regular large bonuses. If your account has accumulated enough you take it out and buy a plane from across the ocean ;-)

      • A330 production output will soon be at 10 per month. Airbus should quite easily be able to produce a similar amount of A350-900s per month once the manufacturing has matured. Add that to the fact that Airbus seems to believe they can sell 70 or 80 A350-1000s a year post EIS, and you’ll see why an annual A350 production output just short of 200 units should be feasible by the end of the decade.

  12. EADS have been working their socks off for years at trying to break this last bastion of the Boeing loyalty fortress, with new less unbiased blood at the helm the current Japanese commitment to Boeing will likely crumble with the next wave of aircraft tenders.

    Whilst pushing the complete portfolio we’re curious to see which sector we will score first, single or twin aisle or perhaps a coup with ultra heavy, interesting.

  13. I just think each FAL from Airbus is 1 A/C per Week 48-50 Week worked per Year !
    So, I think we are going to get a 150 A350 per Year capacity at the end, if Fabrice Brégier accept the 4-500 M$ investment !
    John Leahy , needs slot’s to make sales, and he is very limited today !
    Le Bourget is at stakes, and the temporary black hole of the B787, is an unique opportunity !
    So, his move is logical, like the A320NEO successfull launch !

    It have to be seen, if the EASD Board follow JL !
    And where and when it may be accumplished !

    My pronostic : They (Airbus) may launch the A350-1000 from a new FAL in 2017, they have time for, and it may spare time and perturbations, on the A359 working Line !

    Where … The more simple is TLS, if they find space …

    Hamburg may be, for a smart workforce share asked by Germany !

    Mobile is more complicated, since some assembly from Spirit has to move too, but they have some space … and will have a painting building with a lot of free time !
    But … may be a little complicated to lauch a new plane from the scratch

  14. Maybe if China commits to 400 A350s

    In Tjianjin Airbus copied the/a Hamburg line, including supply and most people and then started increasing Chinese content, when it met the standards.

  15. I really don’t believe that Airbus is basing the decision on A350 capacity on the temporary blib that is the 787 grounding, especially since the A350 is not even a direct competitor to the 787. They’re going to let Boeing get on with it, and base their decision on an assumption where their pipeline is going to head that will presume that Boeing is actually sorting itself out. Anything else would be stupid.

    • Airbus will not go for the 787 but for the 777 market.
      No need to spend bullets on the 787. It already binds resources to no end.
      Go for Boeing profitable products. Harry the 777.

      • IMO, the A350-900 is clearly positioned to compete with the 787-9 in the “280-300-seat” market segment (i.e. 777-200ER and A340-300 replacement market), while the 777-8X is not going to be a viable competitor to the A350-900.

  16. So I’m 35,000ft in the air on a British Airways 787 in 2014, with the Boeing fix. The battery catches fire and the hot gases and flames are vented outside as per design (this time around).

    What will those flames do outside the plane? Because this is Li-ion, it’s no ordinary fire. will it definately die out? Will they certify that part of the design? How will they test it?

    Also the inconvenience of the emergency landing. Once on the ground, will it be a quick battery replace, or will the Safety people get involved?

    What airline could plan and run a business with a fleet of planes with such an inherent risk built into the design?

    Too many questions

    • even san will not put out a LI based fire according to several publicaftions

      Boeing final fix will be to paint the exhaust area with fancy red trimmed flames like the Hot Rodders do on their ” hot cars” using the special exhaust manifold or epoxy paint as part of free update paint job. The pilots will be required to notify airport to have Hazmat crews standing by with capability to handle the SS bomb aboard. Landing in the Ocean will not put the fire out either.

  17. If Boeing modifies the batteries so that the probability of an cell fire becomes 10 times as small, the chance of one cell igniting the next becomes 10 times as small and the chances of something getting out of the box in case of all cells burning uncontrolled becomes 10 times as small..

  18. My earlier question remains; why did Boeing and the faulty battery manufacture,
    not take advantage of the three-year 787 program delay, due do outsourcing,
    and test the batteries under simulated flight conditions?

  19. Rudy,
    Perhaps they relied too much on the sub-contractors to perform and forgot where the buck stops.
    I am wondering if the containment system could in anyway provide cause for airlines to cancel without penalty on the basis of basic performance guarantees shortfalls?

  20. From an aviation safety officer’s perpective, and as someone who has interviewed, interrogated and taken the measure of Boeing insider, lt’s get this straight, once and for all: Google ‘Securaplane fire’ and ‘Securaplane whistle blower ‘ and get some facts.
    Boeing has had SIX years to get this right, and once again, no one seems to understand that the job of a GOOD charger is to not wreck a battery. If the battery is bad, a proper charger won’t force the issue and send it into thermal runaway. If the battery is compromised, a good charger won’t antagonize the situation.
    If you have a great battery and a bad charger, the charger can land you in the news headlines. Get this down. Understand it.

    If you have a bad battery, the worst you should get from pairing it with a good charger is diminished performance, NOT a lithium ion volcano.
    Now, for those unaware: In November 2006, Boeing supplier Securaplane Technologies, of Oro Valley, Arizona, suffered a three alarm fire which incinerated their engineering and admin building in the inferno that resupted from a 787 battery test.
    Long predicted by a whistleblower employee who warned of such trouble with the 787, the fire resulted from a test being run by Securaplane on the charger they build for Boeing.
    Truly, if anyone here has NOT spent time extensively speaking in person with test pilots, scientists and engineers-including Boeing insiders, then please refrain from declaring that Boeing has arrived at any kind of ‘solution'; you are merely acting as unpaid (?) servants of Boeing’s well funded, but highly manipulative public relations team; aka, The Ministry of Propaganda.
    The box is no solution, it is NOT acceptable, but if you’re willing to back it, I know Boeing insiders who would love to see if you’d put your wives and kids aboard. (Think twice about your answer.)
    Get skeptical, dig for facts, and don’t be a sock puppet; you are only complicit in a crime of deception by playing into all this unless you do your due diligence. Financial types and analysts who make phone calls, share rumours and know third party individuals who make unattributed statements are only acting in their self interest and are not advancing aviation safety.

    • There is more to it.
      The securaplane patent describes a “blind fillup” approach starting from a a distinct charge state to achieve 100% charge.
      The Nero event at securaplane is remarkable as it indicates no savety precautions during fundamental testing. ( To use Howard nomenclature : they didn’t know [edited]. )
      Flightblogger wrote in 2008 about a projected chemistry change to get from 6 month service life to projected 4 years. ( seems to not have happened. )

      The battery basics as used appear to be fragile but useable if one stays inside the parametric envelope.
      What kind of abuse in use is brought to bear that in regular use service life is significantly reduced already.
      To call up the B-17 semblance : Do they want to return to dropping incendiary bombs ( now with the bomber attached ) ?

  21. OV-099 :
    The A350-900 is clearly positioned to compete with the 787-9 in the “280-300-seat” market segment.

    @ Andreas, Uwe and OV

    The fuselage diameter of the A350 is closer in size to the 787’s than it is to the 777’s. The A350 Mk1 retained the same fuselage as the original A300. With the A350XWB Airbus moved into a new territory that is above the 787, but below the 777. It was an audacious move that added a “new dimension” to the future of Airbus.

    • The A300 crossection was a very carefull choice. Due to a slightly raised floor it allowed the container arrangement from other/bigger WB craft, a reasonable seating area and less lost space in the crown. 767 is less fortitious.
      Never overlayed the 777 cross section with the XWB one or the 787 one at that.

  22. I think the XWB cross section was determined to hold a just acceptable 9 abreast cabin. Acceptable being acceptible for mainline flights longer then 10 hours.

    Roland I agree (once having worked in QA). My position always was/is stick to the rules and make sure the guys that make sure are skilled, truly independent (in cases of doubt backed by the highest boss), well paid irrespective of company results.

    It seems this hasn’t been always the case in the 787 program.

  23. Re JAL,

    apart from the 787 drama, there are some Airbus aircraft Boeing can’t match with equivalents at this moment.

    – 230 seat, quiet, GTF, A321s.
    – 525 seat benchmark A380s that are flooding Narita Airport.
    – affordable medium range 60t A330F cargo aircraft.
    – state of the art 350 seat long haul A350-1000.

    I think many airlines at this moment realize that for replacing their 777-200ERs and A340s with something bigger, the 787-9 is smaller and the 787-10 will have a significant payload range restriction (due to its 787-8 wing).

    The 777-8i would remain a slightly oversized (9.5 abreast, 2xLD3 with a wide aisle, enormous attic) and therefor heavy machine. Also if you put a bigger carbonwing and less powerfull more efficient engines on it.

    9 Abreast on the 787 or 10 abreast on the 777 is possible, great for CASM comparisons and in service but not preferred by / acceptable to all (CX, SQ, BA, AA).

    Leahy sees the opportunity and is lobbying for extra slots.

  24. Will second that.

    The solution proposed is lunatic.

    Think about it, 50 brand new BMWs of their brand new model leave the factory floor and in no time at all batteries in two of them catch fire, one is left a pile of carbon only, in the second the shortciruit current burns two massive metal crossbars capable normally of carrying hundreds of amperes of current. And all that just below the pilot feet.

    Keep in mind that the 787 battery carry roughly 4 time more energy that the one in your car. Boeing solution, put them (four car equivalents!) in a thick stainless steel box (before they were in a thin cheap metal enclosure), separate them with a thin pieces of ceramic and provide a vent to the outside just in case they catch the fire again.

    Who is his right mind would accept anything that stupid, this is creating a bomb, a grenade basically, from 4 car batteries effectively. Have you seen what happens when you shortcircuit a fully loaded car battery even a single one not the four combined together? At least in cars you can stop quickly and run outside, no so easy 10k feet above.

    No way American Pilot Association will go with this idiocy!

  25. Somewhere (Economist forum) someone suggested cosmic rays damage. Reaction of somebody calling himself BozoTheEngineer to that was: hit the batteries in just the wrong place on two separate aircraft? Since one of the two was sitting on the tarmac, it had the same benefit of an atmosphere that my cell phone and laptop already have.

    Reply to Bozos everywhere including the one from the Econiomist :

    Cosmic rays BozoTheEngineer are a possibility, some of them have energies massive enough to cause significant damage. The planes fly high enough (together with you the Bozo and your iPads) to be exposed to significantly higher flux of them.

    Still the possibility of having two hits shortly apart despite batteries’s presenting themselves as a large target (massive cells where on top of it a minute damage can quickly initiate a thermal runaway) relative to submicron sizes of targets in electronics (transistors) where such hits were observed before, is remote.

    Not remote enough IMHO that they should be not tested in high energy particle accelerators before being accepted in this application.

    There is no word that they were. In other words, Bozo, disabling one .1 by 0.1 micron transistor with billions of them around can be easily quickly corrected, and there is nothing to contain there, hitting with the same microscopic particle a huge battery cell carrying hundred of kWHr of energy that will short circuit itself as a consequence sooner or later releasing all that energy is a totally different ball of wax.

    • Of course not hundred of kWh, just 2.2 split between 8 cells. Still plenty enough (four car batteries) to vaporize massive crossbars designed to safely carry hundreds of amps. That Volt guy is right the battery has to be redesigned from scratch if they want to keep it Lithium. Also satellites, both civilian and military use Lithiums in a relative harsh orbital environment. Somebody knows something about them, for example how often do they self ignite there? True they are likely smaller, differently designed, likely radiation hardened, and never charged/discharged at the huge rates seen on 787.

  26. If FAA accept the proposal – I will be surprised
    If customers accept it – I will be quite surprised.
    If insurers accept it – I will be very surprised.
    If pilots agree to fly it – I will be amazed.

  27. A dumb question, but smarter that the heavy smoker box that Boeing wants. Could the charger and batteries from the 777 be used in the 787. I suppose that the 787 may be a different voltage but they are already FAA approved designs.

    It seems illogical to wrap a 65 pound battery within 70 pounds of steel when two 60 pound batteries could be used. I suppose a drop chute with a parachute to ‘deploy’ the burning batter wasn’t considered either.

  28. I wonder what ETOP’s time threshold Boeing would be hoping to achieve, (if at all) with the “super box”? A significantly reduced ETOPs time is the likely the deal breaker for most international longhaul operators.

  29. Interesting play … but a very risky bet !

    Containment may be suficient to buy time to churn out plan B (Better Li-Ion from Yuasa or another partner) … or plan C , a return to Ni-Cad !

    Sure Boeing is heavily (And discretly) working on these options,with Thales, Yuasa, and may be SAFT !

    But if the FAA know of plan B or C , they may no accept the “Sarcophage” with escape solution so easily ! (just imagine 800° C spitting mater amid a refuel )

    So, Boeing is trying to sell their contained “Thermos” solution straight forward as their only solution, and FAA know this fact very well, like everybody …

    How much time will they play …

    It seems to me this poker play has to be ended, Boeing is loosing precious time !

  30. EADS:

    “Good progress is being made on the A350 … but it remains challenging and there is no room left in the schedule [to accommodate further delays],” it said.”

    Sounds like a “copy and paste” of earlier Bombardier statements.

    “Tom Enders, EADS’ chief executive, described the A350 programme as “inherently risky”.”

    Early warning of impending delays?

    For access to the entire Financial Times article please check the following link:


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