Odds and Ends: MIT–787 grounding to 2014; that’s speculation at this stage

MIT on 787 Grounding: MIT says the Boeing 787 might be grounded until 2014, according to this article in Forbes.

But we caution against drawing conclusions. At this point, the MIT guy is giving his best judgment but the NTSB hasn’t determined the cause of the JAL fire, nor what the failures of the related systems may or may not have been.

Updates today: The New York Times has this story and Fox News has this one.

32 Comments on “Odds and Ends: MIT–787 grounding to 2014; that’s speculation at this stage

  1. Although the author (MIT) has some good points as to battery design and cooling, either way one slices it- a ‘ quick fix ” ( in my view- less than a month or two ) seems to be off the table and just not practical.

    While the whole system may not need redesign to incorporate say Ni cad or similar, IMO just the logistics issue would take weeks with a new battery box- venting- software changes re charge discharge AND recertification tests and flights.

  2. Not really sure how familiar that professor is with the specifics of the situation (not that it would stop him or anyone else from weighing in). No one I have talked to thinks it will take anything like a year to solve this problem.

    • solving the problem is the relatively easy part- the logistics of correcting the problem for 50 aircraft take a lot of time-AFTER the ‘ fix” is designed and tested and certified !

      • With all that rather complex change incorporation already going for quite some time shouldn’t Boeing have qualified and “well exercised” personel at hand?
        ( Well, OK, info on how smooth that works or not seems to be sparse )
        Finally: My impression is that this MIT prof is mostly tooting his horn for reflecting on his liquid metal battery tech.

  3. Now we have an interesting problem, our professor says the battery needs vents and the FAA says it needs containment. I note that nobody has found an obveous cause yet, could it be that the in service load is heavier and creating more heat than Boeing allowed for in the design stage. I wonder whether adding another two battery/charger sets identical to the existing two might be the solution. I guess it would be the fastest thing they could do design/development/certification wise.

    • Totally agree!
      With twice the capacity, it is possible to load to a max of 75% and to discharge to a min of 25%.
      In these conditions, no thermal runaways, and battery life of more than 10 years.

      Also agree with CONNETABLE that this “professor” visibly does not know what he is speaking about…..

      • I think your condescending attitude is highly inappropriate. _You_ don’t know whom you speak about.

        The professor is a leading researcher in battery chemistry, so I’d suppose he knows very well what he is talking about.

    • The current battery box appears to be a “thoughless” unsophisticated effort.

      No room for _any_ cell expansion, burst plates are obstructed, the lid is strong enough
      to hold a bit of pressure ( see the deformation ) but will lift off in unpredictable ways spilling all around the slit working as a jet ejector ( explains the 2 feet flames reported from Boston )
      The battery and management information seems to be stored inside the compromisable enclosure.

      The cells have burst plates and you need to at least redesign the alu box to accomodate that imho. ( that seems to be the solution path Airbus has taken: controlled emission in case of fault )

      The main battery connector is imho similarly unfit for the application. you can easily short the contacts on the powered (battery) side when the shipside connector is detached. There are sleeved connectors around that avoid this.

      • I agree about the box. They also need to look at the programing and buffering of the chargers. IF is is the battery/charger combination.

        I think this professor is right about the system needing better cooling, I am just guessing that doubling the number batterys/changers would do it.

      • I would not be surprised if they find that unexpected system interaction/interference is the trigger.

  4. I think the MIT guy is taking an educated look from a distance and drawing some general conclusions. Why are all cells together in 1 box, what about cooling, heat dissipation etc. As concluded earlier on, Boeing must have had a very high confidence level the batteries system simply couldn’t go wrong/ hot. And then everything went completely wrong, twice, in two different situations and aircraft locations. The NTSB suggested it might take months to come up with a final conclusion.

    Before this grounding Boeing said the 787 program was still in a profit position with R&D written off over the first 1400 aircraft. I wonder what sthe stake holders of e.g. ANA, Qatar, BA and UA are thinking now. Is their loyalty endless?

    • The CNET article reads quite a bit more professional than the prsentation from Forbes.
      I may have to modify / retract my negative pronouncement.

    • I think the guy may have been just giving some general opinion to the Forbes “contributor” and was not expecting to be quoted in such an authoritative manner.

      I can certainly see someone going through some of the NTSB slides over coffee and commenting that it’s interesting there’s no obvious cooling and then the other guy writes it up as “MIT expert slams Boeing’s unprofessional lack of battery cooling”, etc.

  5. Shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration issued safety rules in 2007 for using lithium-ion batteries on Boeing Co.’s BA -0.39% 787 Dreamliner jets, an industry standards-setting group called for stricter testing to prevent battery fires on aircraft.

    Boeing and FAA officials decided that since design and testing of the plane was so far along, mandating the tougher standards would disrupt years of joint safety work and unfairly delay production of the cutting-edge Dreamliners, said people familiar with the details.


    Maybe a result of the 2003 started FAA customer service innitiative?
    “Good Customer Service = Good Business Practice”


  6. Question all around: Assuming that the effort and delays will be massive for Boeing independent of the type of solution will there be lobbying effort to “hit” Airbus with the regulatory solution?
    We already saw what Boeing is willing to push with only being slightly set back versus Airbus.

  7. Good &bad News Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner battery ‘not fauily’ attentoin has now shifted to the electrical system that monitors battery voltage,charging&temp.

  8. Meanwhile UA is protecting their investment and ANA cancels 379 more flights. Airlines at this moment have no alternatives then to look brave.


    “The aircraft is a terrific aircraft, and customers love the aircraft, and I have no doubt that customers will flock back to that airplane once we’re able to get it back up again,” said Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Continental.

    Did he check? I think that Friday when DoT, Boeing and FAA firmly stood behind the 787, declaring there’s no doubt the 787 is safe to fly, to ground it a few days later has made an impact.

    No cause 3 weeks after the JAL fire with all evidence and knowledge available sends out a message to the industry.

  9. Sven :I think your condescending attitude is highly inappropriate. _You_ don’t know whom you speak about.
    The professor is a leading researcher in battery chemistry, so I’d suppose he knows very well what he is talking about.

    Forgive us, we seemed to have overlooked the parts where it describes his vast experience and knowledge of battery systems in aircraft, not to mention his detailed knowledge of the 787 systems as well as the certification process involved.

    He is guessing, just like everybody else. In fact, he has never said that Boeing needs to replace the battery. He offered up two suggestions, “In a nutshell, Sadoway thinks that Boeing needs to monitor the temperature and cool each of the eight cells of the 787′s lithium-ion battery or switch to an older battery technology that has a far better safety record — nickel metal-hydride (NiMH).”

    i.e. His first suggestion was monitoring and cooling of the existing battery. But hey. let’s ignore half the story and go for the juicy bits. BY the way, I thought that the original plan does include monitoring, not sure about cooling. But if there is indeed monitoring of the battery, it already suggests he has not even bothered to investigate how the current system operates.

    The NTSB has so far been unable to find the cause for these incidents so nobody knows if the problem lies with the batteries in themselves and if so, what exactly the problem is. It is pretty premature for all to say that the battery must be replaced by another battery type. This still might happen, but there is, as yet, no proof that this is necessary.

    Everybody does agree that Li-Ion batteries are more volatile, but then again, so is jet fuel.
    Even though it is less flammable than jet fuel, nobody has advocated using diesel for aircraft engines. I wonder why.

    I am surprised by how many “engineers” here have already found the problem here and then come up with the solution. Far more efficient than the FAA, NTSB and the JCAB, it appears. All without seeing a single piece of the damage up close and in person.

    Very impressive indeed.

    One question: Has anyone in authourity or really in the know officially spoken about a year until the 787 flies again? Or is this again the usual nonsense coming from the usual suspects?

    • 1 year is from the Forbes article afaics. The CNET is less interpretive.
      In the RealWorld (TM) nobody at the moment is publicly looking for a solution.

      They all are looking for cause ( both initial trigger and fault path taken )
      .. and those have everything at hand to be productive in that endevour.

      But I find it fascinating to see my guesswork unravel over time ( or not )
      as the results from the professional investigators dribbel in.

    • Being an MIT professor doesn’t mean he knows about everything, but it does seem to grant license to be an insufferable “know it all”, at least in some peoples minds.

  10. <strongOne question: Has anyone in authourity or really in the know officially spoken about a year until the 787 flies again? Or is this again the usual nonsense coming from the usual suspects?

    Everyone is guessing at this point. It really boils down to whether the root cause is found by the NTSB quickly or it will be a prolonged investigation. There are good chances it might be the second. If so, Boeing can’t even start designing a fix until they know what exactly they should fix. They might work on few obvious things like redesigning the battery with better venting/cooling but noone knows whether the battery is part of the problem or it’s a victim of other malfuctioning parts of the 787 electric system. That’s why there is a potential for this to take long (definitely too long for Boeing).

    • I have no doubt that Boeing have teams working on solutions to any number of most likely potential causes, just to have a fix ready when the cause is found. Right now I think they are playing the same guessing game we are.

    • It’s very baffling. The one prediction I am going to make, with a high degree of confidence is that LOT, Polish Airlines, will have gone out of business before they get their 787 back.

  11. One is tempted to wonder whether unofficial predictions for the 787’s return to service date will be as accurate as were (all) those official ones for its first flight…

  12. Pingback: Airbus examines lithium battery safety, fire suppression « Leeham News and Comment

  13. Uh OH …


    AI puts Dreamliners to sale, lease
    New Delhi, Jan 28, 2013, PTI:
    Air India has put all its newly-acquired Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner planes for sale and leaseback and invited bids from prospective lessors by February first week, even as all of these aircraft remained grounded across the world.

    Air India and other Dreamliner operators across the world have grounded their entire fleet of 50 B-787s delivered so far following a directive from the US Federal Aviation Authority after a fire risk reportedly caused by a battery problem. In spite of this, the national carrier has gone ahead with its plan of sale and leaseback, which has already been approved by the government as part of its turnaround and financial restructuring plans.

    Sale-leaseback is an arrangement in which an owner sells an asset to a leasing firm and, at the same time, leases it (as a lessee) on a long-term basis to retain exclusive possession and use. This frees capital tied up in a fixed asset, while the lender obtains a guaranteed lease.

    The airline can also claim tax deductions as the asset was no longer owned but leased, which would help it in streamlining its operations and cut costs.

    AI invited quotations from lessors on or before February 5 on a Request for Proposal (RFP) which said it “would sell the aircraft to the lessor and immediately leaseback them under an operating lease for a period of 12 years, with an option to extend.”

    Though the Indian flag carrier has received six Dreamliners between September and December last and is expected to get one this month, it announced in the RFP the sale and leaseback of seven of them. However, delivery of the seventh plane could be deferred due to the prevailing problem. Air India plans to sell all its 27 Dreamliner aircraft to a lessor and lease them back to operate by paying monthly rentals, a common fund-raising practice among airlines.

    That appears to be a prudent decision – but if others are nervous about leasing a stained airplane . . .

    • Did you read the article? Sale and LEASEBACK. This is so common nowadays that you can’t even count how many airlines do this. It’s routine business. Emirates even does this with A380s. Wow… talk about trying to create panic where none exists.

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