Boeing knew of battery issues: NY Times; ~150 failures–Seattle Times

See this story in the New York Times.

The Seattle Times reports that there have been nearly 150 battery failures.

The Wall Street Journal has this article (subscription required).

What’s the cost of the 787 grounding? See this analysis.

The Harvard Business School has this analysis.

The Seattle Times has this report about Cessna using a different on-board system than Boeing to protect against ion battery fires.

48 Comments on “Boeing knew of battery issues: NY Times; ~150 failures–Seattle Times

  1. “Knew about problems”…yeah the replacement rate may have been high. I’m a reliability engineer and there’s all kinds of parts on the planes that don’t last as long as they’re expected to. They’re treating this like it’s some kind of smoking gun revelation (MY GOD! THEY KNEW!!!), but there are multiple parts that are undergoing design reviews (which I will not name) right now because they didn’t perform as advertised. Sometimes suppliers modify the existing design, sometimes new suppliers are brought on board. Batteries aging too rapidly would not cause you to anticipate a safety problem.

    • Boeing knew that it had 5 incidents of low charge on ANA aircraft alone and that low charge could lead to a known battery failure mode and thermal runaway, but of course it didn’t lead to thermal runaway so all was good, no problems here… Until of course it DID lead to thermal runaway and an emergency landing and an emergency AD leading to the grounding all 787’s.

      • Hmm- IF the batts had too low of a charge requiring removal and refurb – seems to me that makes ***more *** than suspect the super deluxe- multi redundant system supposedly designed to prevent that problem ???

    • I would like to contest your position.

      If a part significantly underperforms in relation to spec you have the indications of a design / reality missmatch. This is not harmless. It is a smoking gun ( probably made by Richard Bull) . Ignore it at your own peril.

    • Yes, we in the know understand all aircraft have issues. I distinctly remember B knew about a troublesome connector to the altimeter which was at the root of (but by no means the only cause of) the crash of a Turkish 737 at Schiphol.

      But try to explain this to those not in the know.

      Of course Boeing knew (or they should have) about the risks with the new battery – we all know reports of mobiles melting and laptops catching fire – and the incident during testing. It’s just to bad they haven’t/can’t/won’t immediately put forth all they know and what they are doing to solve the problem. The pax are less worried by a problem if they feel the experts have it in hand and are working on a solution. All this “we have no idea” from the ntsb is not doing Boeing any favors.

    • But this was ten battery/charger replacements FOR ABOUT A DOZEN AIRCRAFT IN ABOUT A YEAR.

      And despite all the hot air they’re known for, Air India initially refused delivery of their 787s due to electrical issues and then had an electrical issue during the actual delivery flight of one aircraft!

      Any way you cut it, and as I’ve been saying all along, it’s been blindingly obvious for a long time that there’s something amiss with the 787 electrics…

  2. DAMM the torpedos – full speed ahead.

    Delaney comment re SPEEA paraphrased

    WE dont need no stinking engineers ”

    From SPEEA site

    Boeing rejected SPEEA’s offer after stating publicly that the company does not need SPEEA members for the FAA investigation or working the 787 issues. Last week, Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said managers and engineers from other areas of the company could do the work.

    Now today they announce a major step up in 737 production- cuz thats who is making enough money to support BOD boondoggles

    AS to battery issues

    When Boeing wants their engineers’ opinions, they will tell them what it is !!

  3. In the Times article

    …. But after discussions with the F.A.A., Cessna decided to replace the battery on its planes with nickel cadmium batteries, which are heavier, but do not catch fire easily. Boeing has said its system has safeguards that prevent a drained battery from being recharged without first being sent back to the manufacturer for reconditioning.

    Uhhh it was more than discussions – it was as I understand it an AD – doit or else..

    GOK what other misinformation is in the article

    14 CFR Part 39

    [Docket No. FAA-2011-1161; Directorate Identifier 2011-CE-036-AD;
    Amendment 39-16850; AD 2011-21-51]
    RIN 2120-AA64

    Airworthiness Directives; Cessna Aircraft Company Airplanes

    AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

    ACTION: Final rule; request for comments.


    SUMMARY: We are adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for certain
    Cessna Aircraft Company (Cessna) Model 525C airplanes. This emergency
    AD was sent previously to all known U.S. owners and operators of these
    airplanes. This AD requires replacing certain lithium-ion batteries
    installed as the main aircraft battery with either a Ni-Cad or a lead
    acid battery. This AD was prompted by a report of a battery fire that
    resulted after an energized ground power unit was connected to one of
    the affected airplanes equipped with a lithium-ion battery as the main
    aircraft battery. We are issuing this AD to correct the unsafe
    condition on these products.

    DATES: This AD is effective November 1, 2011 to all persons except
    those persons to whom it was made immediately effective by Emergency AD
    2011-21-51, issued on October 6, 2011, which contained the requirements
    of this amendment.
    The Director of the Federal Register approved the incorporation by
    reference of a certain publication identified in the AD as of November
    1, 2011.
    We must receive comments on this AD by December 16, 2011.

    Of course they may not have implemented the AD ????

  4. 10 battery changes within a year on a small brand new fleet did not ring any bells. It was also not necessary to inform the NTSB until “very late in the process”.

    I think this might be part of the review.

  5. Kudos to the New york Times for their reporting since the beginning of the crisis. They always come out with the best articles, like if they were ahead of everybody else all the time.

    Kudos also to Uwe for is early “fixation” on the short-lived batteries.

    One of the most revealing excerpts from the NYT article:

    “In a little-noticed test in 2010, the F.A.A. found that the kind of lithium-ion chemistry that Boeing planned to use — lithium cobalt — was the most flammable of several possible types. The test found that batteries of that type provided the most power, but could also overheat more quickly.”

    Another interesting one:

    “But unless investigators can point out the precise cause of the 787’s battery problems or how to prevent them, some experts believe Boeing may have little choice than to pick more traditional battery designs to restore confidence in its airplanes.”

    I personally believe that Boeing has no other choice. It will have “to pick more traditional battery designs to restore confidence in its airplanes,” it’s a fact. The flying public will demand no less through the voices of the numerous journalists covering this issue. An issue that is fast becoming a scandal.

    • The question is are those traditional batteries powerful enough within the current setup? There is a reason why they chose the most powerful (to weight) battery configuration and with knowing the risks. I’d bet they were just desperate to save weight and space while still getting enough performance out of batteries.

      • In all applications APU start seems to be the highest regular current draw. in scope: The A380 (PW960) and A350 (HGT1700) have ~1300kW APUs installed. while the 787 has a 500kW APU ( APS5000). suprisingly small imho.

        My impression today is that Boeing tried to “one up” Airbus in all respects. A PR click together airplane. experience ? integration ? what’s that?

      • In all applications APU start seems to be the highest regular current draw.

        I would be curious to know if ANA swapped their APU battery for their main one prior to their incident. It seems APU start stresses the battery in a way that equivalent car batteries don’t experience. I am wondering if this is a partial cause of the JAL APU battery incident, but it wouldn’t explain the ANA main battery incident unless that battery was previously on APU duty.

  6. So the battery or the system itself did not exceed any known design limits, at least according to what they have learned during these 2-3 weeks. Nothing was improperly installed either. I think this is the worst case scenario for Boeing. Back to the drawing table…

    • Not yet. The system as a whole must deviate from spec ( or the spec is incomplete ).
      Perfectly good batteries gave up their ghost!
      Thus, first they have to find the mismatch between the plane as specced and how it behaves in the wild.

  7. The lithium ion batteries installed on the Boeing 787 are inherently unsafe, says Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and owner of electric car maker Tesla.

    “Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe,” writes Musk in an email to Flightglobal.

    “Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature,” he adds.

    Both Boeing and Tesla use batteries fueled by lithium cobalt oxide, which is among the most energy-dense and flammable chemistries of lithium-ion batteries on the market. While Boeing elected to use a battery with a grouping of eight large cells, Tesla’s batteries contain thousands of smaller cells that are independently separated to prevent fire in a single cell from harming the surrounding ones.

    “Moreover, when thermal runaway occurs with a big cell, a proportionately larger amount of energy is released and it is very difficult to prevent that energy from then heating up the neighboring cells and causing a domino effect that results in the entire pack catching fire,” says Musk.

    An aerospace-capable version of Tesla’s battery has been developed for use in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space launch vehicle. SpaceX, also owned by Musk, competes with Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance for customers. Boeing has thus far declined offers of assistance from Tesla and SpaceX, says Musk.

    “They [Boeing] believe they have this under control, although I think there is a fundamental safety issue with the architecture of a pack with large cells,” writes Musk in an email. “It is much harder to maintain an even temperature in a large cell, as the distance from the center of the cell to the edge is much greater, which increases the risk of thermal runaway.”

    Musk’s assessments of battery cells were confirmed by Donald Sadoway, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    “I would have used the same words,” says Sadoway. “I would have used the same words. I’m glad someone with such a big reputation put it on the line.”

    “He’s engineered [Tesla’s battery] to prevent the domino effect, while Boeing evidently doesn’t have that engineering,” adds Sadoway.

    • So one email to a MIT professor or probably to any battery expert would have confirmed that their battery design was unsafe but they did not bother! That sounds like another delay, right?

      Building burning to ground during early testing did not wake them up. Then they got multiple early warnings from battery replacements that hey, something is wrong with them. Even that did not wake them up. Only when forced to ground the fleet Boeing finally woke up!

      This does not sound like “safety is paramount to us”…more like the value of management stock options are paramount to us.

      • Flying aircraft is inherently unsafe.
        Flying was pronounced impossible by professors years after the wright bros. achieved it

        Hindsight is always 20/20

  8. “But in response to All Nippon’s disclosures, Boeing officials said the airline’s replacement of the batteries also suggested that safeguards were activated to prevent overheating and keep the drained batteries from being recharged. ”
    One would think they would learn to keep quiet instead of trying to point out how it seems that their safeguards worked, until they didn’t!!

    Question is if they realised that their safeguards were being used or not? i.e. Is their some sort of warning, message or flag to say that the batteries were draining and hence, the system was preventing the batteries from recharging? If so, then that would indicated they knew something was up. If not, then their monitoring system needs serious rework.

    On the other hand, didn’t the NTSB say the other day that the problem is not with the battery itself? Or does this revelation change that opinion?

  9. Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators had only recently heard that there had been “numerous issues with the use of these batteries” on 787s. She said the board had asked Boeing, All Nippon and other airlines for information about the problems.

    “That will absolutely be part of the investigation,” she said.


    I think some urgent, high level phone calls were made.

    Regarding the intensive “maintenance” the 787 batteries seem to have experienced over the last year, it reminds me of Jon Ostrower’s article, he earlier on reported some of the first airlines to operate the Boeing 787 took unusual steps to mitigate reliability problems and keep their marquee jets on schedule

    That’s all fine, but then to claim the 787 is as good as the 777 because its dispatch reliability is about the same, is bordering deception IMO. And now it appears they found it unnecessary to take action witnessing these unusual high replacement rates. Even after the fire (and when the FAA review had started) they only informed the NTSB after they specifically asked for it.

    Is Boeing fully cooperating or do they still feel it’s all over reaction and they act accordingly?

  10. My respect for Boeing is waning. It’s like they decided the 787 MUST fly no matter what the costs. The question is… Where they prepared to put lives at risk so they could beat Airbus in the deliveries race?

      • Barely being so long ago. But it was evident then the 787 wasn’t ready and it obviously still isn’t ready now. Yet Boeing were happy to put the aircraft through certification and have pushed 787’s on to customers – perhaps knowing their new baby wasn’t ready to walk. Scary really.

  11. That’s presumably what LOT referred to when they said Boeing told them it was safe to continue flying the plane, since the Japanese issues were known, but did only affect older planes?

    • All carefully kept mostly sucessfully under wraps and out of the press.

      Compare to the inverse care applied to the A380 to make every single
      drop of oil under the plane globally visible.

      Think about he spinal tap into the media machine you need to achieve that.

      • IIRC Airbus was quite blasé about the leaky oil-lines into the engine and cracking rib-wings.
        They did manage a successful u-turn when the larger news outlets started reporting on it. Boeing should try that – just come clean now. As long as the pax think there’s somthing Boeing won’t admit to – their fears will create bigger trouble then there really could be!

      • The rib feet cracking was exposed by the QF32 reconstruction.
        Airbus immediately acted on that information. (6 month from first EASA and customer information to public visibility.) in the process of checking other specimen a second and third variant were exposed and acted upon.
        Finally my understanding is that exposure at the first scheduled structure check would have been early enough
        to avoid an escalation.
        In the oilpipe issue ‘Qantas had closed and removed their inhouse calling place for such things. RR was reduced to talking to themselves. It is quite showing that the RR workmanship issue escalated with Qantas and not any of the other Trent900 users.

        In contrast Boeing had this problem domain on their hands from day one of flying the plane and _never_ escalated this to their customers or the FAA/NTSB until they had no way out any more ( having sat 2 years on their hand and still grumbling for made to fess up)

      • to add: what you seem to perceive as “blase” is the reaction a well prepared party will exhibit when confronted with the first pustules of a media “rash”.
        Works perfectly to make a party look bad even though they did everything that materially mattered right.

        .. And Boeing knows that and uses it regularly to “level the field”. and see the reverse even well presented and founded critique towards Boeing was submerged in derision and missreflection.

    • EADS/Airbus CEO’s resigned for much less. Remember Humbert and Forgeard.

      On the A380 wing crash, that are fully under control, CEO Enders said publicly they ‘Screwed Up’ on A380 Wing Cracks. Different Leadership.

      I hesitated to say, because I hate those personal attack and blaming management for everything, but I will do now :

      In my opinion to restore confidence, senior Boeing Management has to go.

      Yes: Jim McNerney.

      If he stays now, it proves he untouchable no matter what happens.

      • Ha.. amazing. McNerney says that you can have more room to tolerate failure when you are being innocative, but ‘if we had [787] kind of implementation problems on a programme that wasn’t innovative, then we’d be in trouble’.
        And the 747-8 programme? That is what? I suppose in his world it is either considered a success, or revamping a >40 year old design is considered innovative.

      • “ can have more room to tolerate failure when you are being innovative …”
        In the modern way of designing and building airplanes you should have all risk covered before the first piece of metal is cut ( or the first piece of CFRP cured ).
        Todays longer development cycles actually have a reason.

        Except you feel like being cavalier and riske and borrow from IT : The customer has been coopted as beta tester.
        TANSTAAFL : The plane was cheap. Ownership less so.

  12. Another very sad day. Revelation of over 100 failed batteries in Seattle/NY Times together with Musk comments on Flightglobal on the 787 battery architecture. Really, how much more is Boeing hiding? What else we haven’t heard yet? They have to come out completely clean now or these revelations will be trickling in as more and more whistleblowers will come forward. And yes, maybe time has come to chop some heads at the top including the very top one.

    • The majority seem to have happened from “having left the lights on” or the “(fridge) door open”.
      Maybe a small Honda AC unit is required ? They don’t weigh much 😉

      • I wonder whether “leaving the lights on” and discharging battery too much is just 787 problem. What about other planes? Certainly it must happen there too quite often. It does not seem to cause the battery to be shipped for recharging to Japan though.
        Wonder how many of the reported 100/150 failiures are not simple undercharge cases.

  13. From the Dominic Gates article, referring to Boeing spokesperson Lori Gunter, “However, she acknowledged that there has been a series of problems and listed “the top three reasons for Boeing returning batteries” as batteries running down, being improperly disconnected, or exceeding their expiration date.”

    Exceeding their expiration date!?!? The planes are only a year old.

    How long is a $16,000.00 battery good for?

    Have they ascertained the status of the two batteries in the incidents? i.e. Were they deep discharged or run down and did the system on these two aircraft possibly still try to charge them?

      • Ironically, I was just reading about the 100+ replaced batteries and wondering about the exact opposite: since Yuasa took those batteries back, I’m guessing it’s possible they re-conditioned those batteries (the majority which had just had their low-charge lock tripped) for re-use.

        If (and that is a big if) they were doing this, then is it possible they sent cells back onto aircraft which they thought were okay but which had a differential charging characteristic to the others sitting in the same battery casing… and if those differences were outside the range of the control algorithm then a few charge/discharge cycles would rapidly result in a large difference between cells and trigger exactly the kind of events we saw on the JAL and ANA birds!

        Again, I’m not claiming this is what happened, but *if* they were reconditioning batteries then the scenario would fit the events…

  14. Andreas :
    I was more referring to batteries that had reached their best before date.

    Which is why I talked about the “opposite” problem… 🙂

    • If many batteries were being returned from the re-worked planes solely due to being “out of date”, there would be a lot of motivation to try re-conditioning, no?

  15. It’s really fascinating how Boeing and its fanbois continue to negate that there is a general problem with the batteries and discharge!

    The NTSB will not be amused about this ignorance and hush up…

    Keep’m grounded until the current Boeing management are no longer able to endanger aircraft safety!

  16. Commonly , this kind of battery are used in quantity of industrial aplications, from drillers to elevators !
    For thousands of cycles, may be 3-4000 cycles , in much cases !
    The only defect is that they are abruptly stopped, by their onboard monitoring, when they are low (Uneasy situation, with a Fork lifter on the move )!

    Hitachi, I often use, for example is perfectly able to manage for years a battery pack with chargers under 100$ and without any notice !
    The only I record to be out of service ,are one or two batteries forgotten empty for months !

    Why did Boeing , Yuasa & Als enter in such a mess with the B787, its still a mystery for me !
    Any fork elevator Al-Li Battery with it’s OEM charger, may have given better résults !

    May be the answer is just : Under-sized batteries, and very small margins !

  17. Lets see – To replace a battery at other than home base- to avoid flight delays means batteries must be available at almost every airport plane lands.
    Cannot ship them by Air- so must use SEA from Japan. and then truck or train to left overshoe east nowhere.

    And if the ‘ dome ‘ light is left on which runs down the battery to its lock down mode, one wonders what the Power point MBA rangers were smoking.

    For example – if 10 percent is the lockdown value, then why not set monitoring circuit to say 13 percent for automatic disconnect if no other source is on line ? My RV has that system on the house batteries (golf cart 6 volt in series )

    at 16 k a copy plus transportation plus plus plus , perhaps Boeing is playing the razor blade game – – use a special design- and then make money for the supplier on the replacements ?
    It works well on post it notes and certain adhesives ;-PPPP

    How many passengers does it take to get a ” profit ” of !6K ?

    Probalby more than a half dozen

    bigger heavier batteries that work may add 600 pounds or about 3 passengers.

    Stuff that up your power point !!!

  18. I don’t think it will add more than 2-300 pounds, any way they choose to go !
    The huge problen, is the drain, by unexpected use, leaking electronic switches, & storage time !
    I just think, spare storages for this kind of battery, may need to be equipped with some kind of chargers / Equalizers it would be easier and safer !

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