Odds and Ends: KC-46A and Sequester; Stopping Li-Ion fires–or not; Analysts views on FAA action

KC-46A and Sequester: The US House hopes to spare the Boeing KC-46A from Sequester.

Stopping Lithium-Ion Battery Fires: Christine Negroni, who has written for the New York Times and a number of other publications and who has her own blog, Flying Lessons, reports that it’s not possible to prevent lithium-ion battery fires to the one in one billion chances.

Design News has a story that we’re linking here. The story itself is several days old and offers nothing new but its links at the bottom to a series of stories about lithium-ion batteries are what caught our attention and which we thought might be of interest to readers.

Analyst views on the FAA 787 action: Here is what some of the analysts are saying about the FAA clearance for Boeing to proceed with testing the battery solutions:

BB&T Capital

The FAA has officially agreed to test whether Boeing’s redesigned battery system complies with the applicable safety regulations and special conditions. And while the

FAA press release stresses that this approval is only but a “first step” in a process that will involve “extensive testing”, Boeing management’s confidence that (1) their proposed plan will address all of the regulators’ concerns; and (2) the implementation of the fix will be quick once approved by the FAA is sufficient evidence for us to reject our prior thesis that a much longer re-certification process (6 months minimum) is more likely. If all of the FAA’s stringent tests are passed, with no new issues raised, we believe it is fair to assume that this testing could be completed in 5-7 weeks. Accordingly, we are raising our rating from Underweight to Hold.

Bernstein

We do not expect the certification of the new battery design to take a long time. Although the certification plan will require testing and analysis to ensure compliance with the FAA’s safety regulations and special conditions, we understand that some airlines believe 787s could be flying as early as the end of May. Boeing also appears confident that it can meet the FAA’s requirements quickly.

Goldman Sachs

Boeing announced that it has received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the company’s plan to test and certify improvements to the 787 battery system. We believe this is an important step towards the resumption of commercial 787 flights and new 787 deliveries. However, a recertification will likely take months to complete and therefore near-term uncertainty also remains on the program.

Imperial Capital

It now appears likely that Boeing will be able to have the grounding lifted on the 787 in May, assuming that there are no issues that arise as part of the re-testing process. The company is stressing that it is a matter of weeks, not months, for the solution to be implemented. We believe that Boeing is close to having production ready batteries that reflect the re-design, considering the number of people Boeing has had in Japan working with the battery supplier on the proposed solution. Next steps for Boeing are to get the current fleet of 50 ready to fly, then incorporate the fix into the current aircraft in inventory so that Boeing can resume 787 deliveries, and then finally work the battery changes into the supply chain for in production aircraft.

  • The Wall Street Journal writes, “If all goes well, commercial 787 flights could resume by early May, according to industry and government officials.”

21 comments on “Odds and Ends: KC-46A and Sequester; Stopping Li-Ion fires–or not; Analysts views on FAA action

  1. There are multiple issues to be considered and I get the feeling that most people focused on the battery failure modes and how to deal with those rather than taking into account the functions expected from the battery and the prreviously ongoing safety review of all the 787 system, including of course the electrical power system.

    As far as I understand the Boeing “Superbox” approach is intended to contain the battery resulting fire / overheat / gas venting whatever the root cause is.
    Nevertheless batteries are expected to deliver a service on the electrical network, probably for electrical network re configuration / bus bar powering while power sources are switched and before the RAT is up and running (extremely remote failure cases).
    Safety Analyses assume a probablity of battery failure / unavailability in order to comply with 25-1309.

    Battery inservice history on the 787 is very unlikely to be consistent with the expected numbers (~100 batteries removed during operations, 2 fires with no root cause found yet in 52,000 flight hours).

    Moreover GCU failures have also been a significant teething problem.

    That means that the “Superbox” may indeed remove the cascading effects of the battery failure, but meeting the safety objectives of 25-1309 / System SSA is unlikely to be within easy grasp.
    Assessment of how long will it take to get the FAA nod on these matter is also to be pondered while guessing the return to service date.

    • Yes, the batteries issue may just be the “indicator light” for unspecified causes
      and the bomb calorimeter thing does nothing for the availability of the batteries.

  2. I am wondering when some of these “analysts” start actually analysing and not just blindly swallowing everything that Boeing feeds them. If they were to analyse the history of this program, they would correlate the statements that Boeing made and the actual events as they occurred and could then come to the conclusion that one had little in common witht the other.

    All hail the mighty stock price!!!

  3. The wsj article on this revealed a nice tidbit, “The person added that the new battery design had already been shipped from Japan to Washington state for testing.”

    Just when did this all occur? If the battery is already in Seattle, how long ago would they have had to start a redesign to get it built and shipped to Boeing?

    Seems everything is going awfully fast to me.

    I have noted though, that Mr. Huerta and Mr. LaHood have both been careful in phrasing there statements to indicate that they have not approved Boeing’s redesign. They have only approved the test plan.

    Mr. LaHood, “This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed,”

    Mr. Huerta, “We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign,”

    I wonder if this indicates a difference of opinion on how far Boeing still needs to go. Boeing seems to indicate that is now just a matter of performing and documenting the tests whereas it seems as the FAA bosses have only signed off on the test plan and requirements, but not the actual redesign.

  4. Another quote from wsj, vis-a-vis my comment posted above: “The agency described its move as “the first step in the process to evaluate the 787’s return to” commercial service and said the test flights and other assessments will require Boeing “to demonstrate compliance with the applicable safety regulations and special conditions.”

    Here is a good one from the wsj article: “The company said it agreed to comply with industrywide standards–developed shortly after the FAA’s initial approval of 787 batteries in 2007— that require more stringent testing to show the batteries will remain safe even if the system’s redundant electrical safeguards fail. ”

    MIghty big of them (Boeing), isn’t it?!

    • “The company agreed to comply” sounds so much better than “the FAA made it mandatory”. I guess that Huerta rather said “don’t you even think about getting away with the pre-RTCA 311 conditions”.
      There might be some fall-out on the upcoming debate on continued grandfather rights for the 737MAX and the 777X.
      If a derivative ends up being 85% new, like the 747-8, it shouldn’t get away with just a supplemental type certiificate.

  5. There are plenty of DOD programs that can be cut, or eliminated before we cut the KC-46 program, or keep CVN s parked in port. The LCS program is giving us a questionable, at best warship, the F-35 program(s) are hundreds of billions over budget, and years behind schedule.

    The LCS can be replaced by the lower cost, but more adaptable proposed modification to the USCG’s Legend-class National Security Cutter, called the Patrol Frigate 4921 which carries a VLS system and an gun upgraded from the LCS 57MM (2.24″ caliber) gun to a longer ranged and more effective rapid fire 76mm (3″ caliber) gun. yes, I know the legend class is 50% heavier than either LCS class ship, and has a draft about 10′ deeper than the LCS, but the USN will never operate these ships in the littorials, either

    The F-35 can be replaced by more modern F-15s, F-16s anf F/A-18s.

      • The Braunschweig class look even more broken than LCS-1…same disturbing lack of armament and technical defects and not ready until 2014. I’ll take my disastrously underarmed warship now, thank you very much. At least LCS can operate LAMPS.

      • The difference is the price tag.
        For one LCS you get one and a half Type 212 subs (real stealthy, operates submerged from 50 feet depth on) or 3 Braunschweig-class corvettes.

        These corvettes will be fully operational in 2013 including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schiebel_Camcopter_S-100.

        Just think about against whom LCS is thought to fight before talking about an underarmed warship. F35 is also “too much” aircraft for most enemies.

      • Why the A-330MRTT (KC-30A)? It still is not fully operational. The IOC was just a political move for a tanker that is far from ready to go to war if needed. The boom will not be usable until at least 1 year from now.

        I could go along with Typhoons or Rafales replacing the F-35s, just as I could go along with updated and modernized F-15s, F-16s, and F/A-18s.

        The Braunschweig class is just as useless as either class of LCSs, IMHO. The modified Legend class NSC (to at least the PF-4921 standard) is the way to go and replace the current LCS classes. It costs less and has about 3 X the firepower as the LCS does, and still is capable of modular refit of mission pallets in less than 1 day, ust as the LCS is.

        The USN has no current missions that require a SSK like the Type-212 U-Boat as they have the new Virginia class SSNs in the fleet and in production.

  6. Let us not get overboard with financial analysts’ view ,when a technical problem is likely to be solved and FAA approval likely; with due respect , this is an enginerring solution and we hope FAA will tread cautiously making sure it is a solid solution ,with protections which work all the time. If they do a rush job, and get the planes back early May ,it is not worth the risk.Better sorry and later than earlier.

  7. Aero Ninja :
    I have noted though, that Mr. Huerta and Mr. LaHood have both been careful in phrasing there statements to indicate that they have not approved Boeing’s redesign. They have only approved the test plan.

    Unfortunately that didn’t stop the spin hitting the mainstream media… yet again!

  8. Flying ‘by summer’ more or less means third quarter, right?

    So what caused the rapid fluctuations in battery current? Wouldn’t the root cause for something like that have to be outside of the battery? And if the charger has ben checked OK, wouldn’t the root cause have to be somewhere further out in the electrical system?

  9. I Think Boeing is working out secretly for a next year broader and complete solution !
    FAA may be in full knowledge !
    The emergency is to save the soldier B788 before this summer, Jon Ostrower say end of May ! And he may be right !
    May be it will cost some ETOP’s for some times to the B788, but it’s better than nothing !

    This may too be the main reason Randy is beginning to let know the B787-10 launch is on the backburner !
    Sure, not a single would be launch customer wants to endorse this bad image today !

    So … let Boeing push the B777-XX !
    A very good marketing move !

    • See my comment that was endorsed by Howard.
      The US trade balance has worsened again so it is exports. exports. exports.
      ( with all that money potentially saved from cracking for gas and oil I was a bit surprised. )

  10. KDX125 :
    There might be some fall-out on the upcoming debate on continued grandfather rights for the 737MAX and the 777X. If a derivative ends up being 85% new, like the 747-8, it shouldn’t get away with just a supplemental type certificate.

    Frankly, I don’t thing this poses a genuine threat to aircraft safety. I am more worried for the competitiveness of Boeing. The grandfathering to death of the 737 can prevent Boeing from producing a more advanced design (à la CSeries) that would keep it in the game for years to come. Actually I see more risk in the MAX today than there would have been if Boeing had launched the NSA after Airbus was fully committed to the neo.

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