787 “super box” mimics Cessna

We’ve been reading a lot of comments from our own readers and some from more qualified analysts or experts who are constantly criticizing the Boeing proposal to have a containment box for the lithium ion battery on the 787. The gist of the criticism is that this “super box” is a bad idea that doesn’t solve the problem.

While we’ve joked that the box is a fire place, we feel compelled to point out that the Boeing solution is similar to that adopted by Cessna. Readers forget The Seattle Times published this article January 29 describing the Cessna solution, which is pictured here.

This approach, according to The Times article, is well advanced through FAA review.

The aviation industry doesn’t work in a vacuum and clearly Boeing is aware of this approach.

For those enthusiasts and more qualified critics of the super box, keep the Cessna approach in mind.

43 Comments on “787 “super box” mimics Cessna

  1. How many fires did Cessna experience since they implemented the change. In other words, did they found the root cause of their problem AND took an extra step with the box; or (in what SEEMS to be the case with Boeing), they didn’t know how to prevent a fire, but just contained it?

    • To be certified end of this year – not even confirmed this will be the final design for Cessna.

      • By which I mean there hasn’t actually been “a change” yet…

  2. I placed a question in a previous thread which got lost in the spam filtering about whether Boeing intend to meet the RTCA DO 311 standard for the redesigned batteries. The current batteries do not conform and caught fire. According to manufacturers EaglePicher, the battery illustrated above does meet the standard.

    The FAA has adopted DO-311 for compliance with certain of their special conditions for lithium batteries, although they don’t insist on it for planes such as the 787 that have already been certified with alternative criteria. But as that wasn’t a great success, Boeing could demonstrate it’s serious about following current best practice if it did test against DO-311:

    Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) for rechargeable Lithium battery systems to be used as permanently installed power sources on aircraft.

    Compliance with these standards is recommended as a means of assuring that the Lithium battery will perform its intended function(s) safely, under conditions normally encountered in
    aeronautical operations. These standards apply to the chemical composition, cell size, cell construction, cell interconnection methods within batteries, venting provisions, operational and storage environments, packaging, handling, test, storage and disposal of rechargeable Lithium batteries, installed separately or in avionics equipment aboard aircraft.

  3. @keesje-I built my own desktop computers and your comment was a good one…it completely reminded me of a heat exchanger..I wonder if that’s indeed the function of the top part…

    • Almost certainly is. The container needs both to contain the heat (in an explosion) and dissipate it (the rest of the time)

      • Form & Function I guess…I wonder if there will be some kind of “cooling mechanism” -i.e. sort of like a “CPU-fan”.

        Maybe keeping the batter compartment “cool” or “refrigerated” might help..but that’s pure speculation on my part.

      • This is not going to do much once things are exploding – most likely it is high-powered cooling during normal operation. Mitigate probability of heat damage leading to runaway in the first place…

  4. The fascination with publicly displaying the Super Box et all at Boeing should stop. These things only add to public anxiety. Boeing needs to explain the fix to FAA not the average Joe – Its not as if they would understand it anyway.

    Ease up on the PR and focus on getting the bird back in the air. At least in this department Boeing has a lot to learn from Airbus.

  5. In contrast to Boeing Cessna had a clearly defined fault mechanism.
    A massive overcharge from an external power unit.

  6. I’m going to be completely honest Scott and say I don’t understand/am not well ready about the Cessna issues.

    Why did Cessna need to add this box to their aircraft?

    Is this the only steps they took, or did they identify the root cause and build in extra protection?

    I’m comfortable with Boeing building additional safeguards, but we don’t know whether the problem is an external source to the battery yet do we?

    The fact that one of the batteries became jeopardised in flight would suggest to me that there is a charging issue i.e. the aircraft is forgetting the battery is charged.

    I know there is no evidence to suggest/confirm this, but inert batteries shouldn’t fail. Having said that, Li-Ion batteries have been known to cause issues whilst inert in cargo bays – so this might suggest a fundamental issue with the technology all together.

    • The DO-311 standard I linked to above effectively requires them to have a strong box amongst other things. There’s a demo of the box being exploded on the EaglePicher link above as part of the testing against DO-311.

      The 787 isn’t DO-311 compliant because it predates that standard. That’s why I am very curious as whether Boeing will meet that standard. The Seattle Times article linked by Leeham thinks it would take 18 months to certify.

      The point is, that it isn’t just safe old tech versus untried new tech. It’s also best of practice new tech (Cessna) versus substandard new tech (Boeing)

  7. Well, there’s something else to keep in mind in the article too. 🙂

    “But this is not a quick fix for Boeing.

    Nowlin said the battery-certification process with the FAA, starting from scratch, typically takes 18 months.

    A Wall Street analyst, whose firm doesn’t allow him to be quoted, estimated that it would take Boeing 12 to 15 months to update the 787 battery design to the EaglePicher standard and get it certified.”

  8. In the seattle times article, under the photo it’s written the batteries will be certified by years end. How can Boeing obtain a certification by end of april or mai?

  9. Calls such as this one for McNerney to be replaced with Mullaly were bound to come. Interesting to see this one coming from the investor community.


    My opinion, however ill informed, could hardly be lower of McNerney overall, but I think he knows he is done in, and is serving out his term relatively honorably. Of course, he can take comfort knowing that he will likely walk away with more compensation than, say, LOT when all of this is done.

  10. @ Matt B: Thanks for a great post.

    Douglas A. McIntyre:

    Boeing needs to make a move now so that it can address two problems. The first is that it must regain confidence with customers, shareholders and employees. McNerney cannot do that. His failures are too extensive. Boeing also needs a leader who can step into the job quickly and will not need months and months to learn about the company and its operations.

    Today, Boeing is rudderless, perhaps the worst condition in which a large public company can find itself. Mullaly has been the rudder of Ford. It is time for the Boeing board to hire him before its situation becomes much worse.

    Read more: Will Ford’s Mullaly Be Boeing’s Next CEO? – 24/7 Wall St. http://247wallst.com/2013/03/05/will-fords-mullaly-be-boeings-next-ceo/#ixzz2MhHsnReg

    • The “markets” all have it assbackwards.

      You need real consistent performance. That will bring confidence.
      The fake confidence created by strategic communications has no
      real substance.

      Unfortunately it is easier to destroy a reputation ( your own, someone elses )
      than to build true good reputation.
      Also the audience has short memory. That is why we saw one carefully crafted
      spin campaing after another to float Boeing and to diss Airbus.
      .. And there are people around that actually believe these images.

  11. 1- Who is going to be the next Boeing CEO in Chicago?
    2- Who is going to be the next pope in Rome?

    One has resigned, while the other ran away.

  12. Another interesting piece from Reuters:

    – The National Transportation Safety Board this week is due to issue an update on its investigation.

    – Safety experts said approval from the FAA will be difficult as long as what caused the batteries to melt down remains a mystery.

    – Even if the battery failures are fully explained, safety experts said, that does not make the Dreamliner “1,000 percent safe.”

    – The National Transportation Safety Board has questioned the process the FAA and Boeing used to approve the plane as safe just 18 months ago.

    – “The FAA will need to find a way to communicate that they believe the level of risk has been reduced to a minute level that’s acceptable,” Aboulafia said.

    – “The safety of the flying public is our top priority and we won’t allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we’re confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks,” [FAA] agency representative Laura Brown said.

    – Goglia, the former NTSB board member, said regulators are “going to have to find a way to balance off their caution with the country’s and Boeing’s need to get this airplane back in the air.”

    – Having certified the high-tech plane as safe, the FAA is facing very close scrutiny of its approval procedures. The NTSB has questioned the process Boeing and the FAA used to certify the plane.

    – Some safety experts see the FAA eager to stand by Boeing and move quickly – even if politics slows it down some.

    – Former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo said the FAA is likely to decide that the fix is “an acceptable risk before the NTSB will.”

    – The aviation industry, for its part, has strong incentives to avoid cutting corners, since human life, company reputations and careers are at stake.

    – Industry experts, however, say the inability to pinpoint the cause of the battery failures could make the FAA’s job of certifying a solution more difficult, since it requires a fix that can contain the worst problem that can occur without damaging the aircraft.

    – “People will attack this approach,” said Weber. “They’ll say, ‘How do you know that’s the worst case?'”

    – Weber speculated that the safety concerns may result in regulators restricting the 787’s ability to make long flights over water, a standard known as ETOPS.

    – “If politically they feel they cannot move aggressively toward restoring three-hour ETOPS they may restrict it to one hour, so the aircraft can land if there is a fire,” said Weber. “That destroys the business case for the 787.”

    The above statements are excerpts which I posted here in order to provide a summary of the article for those who don’t have time to read the entire article. For others who would like to consult it please check the following link:


    • Interesting article. One way out may be fixed battery now with a one hour diversion rule; new battery designed from first principles and certified within 18 months. This would be a political decision: if the design isn’t safe enough in 18 months, it isn’t safe enough now. However all decisions made by the FAA involve politics; a different decision would be equally political.

      A couple of thoughts coming out of this:

      1. The FAA needs to be stricter about standardization. Ad hoc testing isn’t objective, nor is it a substitute for compliance with standards. The same incidentally with the electrical system software, as demonstrated by the fire at Laredo.

      2, A badly managed program impacts on safety as much as it impacts on everything else. To do its job properly the FAA needs Boeing to do its job properly. (This doesn’t mean scores of people are about die when they next step on a 787, by the way)

      3. I don’t recall the FAA itself coming under scrutiny in this way before (perhaps others do?) Losing trust in the regulator would be intensely damaging for the industry.

      4. Boeing and the FAA can’t afford another 787 full battery fire, ever again. The containment of a fire is a necessary precaution and one that Boeing committed to, but didn’t deliver on, previously. But is not the solution.

      • “2, A badly managed program impacts on safety as much as it …”

        With todays expectation that “savety” is designed into the whole process from day one, can this significant impact
        on trust in attributed savety from a tainted process ever be fully recouped?

        The Fadec Software for the TP400 (BAE via Hispano-Suiza via MTU for EPI ) had to be redone from new with the proper certfied tools to meet the prescribed process and
        savety expectations. No simple audit would do.

      • Certainly in software design, which is the area I know about, you have to build compliance tests into the design of the product. You can’t demonstrate compliance afterwards. You have no choice but to throw the design out and start again.

        Boeing had already started again after one version of the electrical power system software and in my view, the FAA should have required it to do so a second time when the Laredo fire demonstrated major non-compliance.


      • I would agree with your first paragraph (in fact, it’s always been what I expected) except I would change slightly to fast-tracked limited fix (the box), then new “electrical solution” (ie. not “new battery” certified shortly after).

        AFAIK the actual root cause is still unknown (and in dispute), therefore the battery itself may not be the (only) thing to need fixing…

  13. What’s the longest flight Cessna equipped with this Li-Ion hell box are supposed to do ?
    What about ETOPS certification for this kind of aircrafts ?

  14. Well I am a little bit lost here. I thought Cessna removed all of the Li-Ion batteries from their aircraft?
    Could anybody enlighten me?

  15. Does anybody know if the FAA has or intends to set a limitation to the frequency of these events, no matter how well contained they are?

      • Ok, I knew about that. Thanks. Just wanted to know if that had in some way changed.

        So the 787 has already failed to meet the criteria of the frequency of such events and Boeing’s solution to the problem is to install a better containment for such events without really appearing to be doing anything significant to reduce the frequency of said events.

        Does this mean that if we get another two fires, or even smoke shows, within a year, the FAA would once again be forced to ground the Dreamliner?
        I understand Boeing is desperate to get this bird back in the air but I find it hard to believe they would risk the possibility of such an event happening, unless they are totally desperate or completely off their rockers, neither of which I believe they are, yet.

      • The problem, I think, is that Boeing and the FAA don’t know what the likelihood of a fire is after the fix, rather than they have agreed a new, easier to meet. figure. Boeing supposedly demonstrated the probability of a fire event was within the “extremely remote” limits when they certified the battery the first time round. They were clearly wrong then, but it seems they are not able to predict with confidence now. In fact, they are probably not recalculating the odds at all.

        The proposed fix goes beyond better containment and I suggest it might possibly bring the odds into the “extremely remote” limits – ie fix the problem. We don’t know that, though, and I am guessing Boeing and the FAA don’t know it either.

    • There are existing limitations :
      less than 1/10e6h hours if working countermeasures to comply with the “FAA Li-Ion battery special conditions” exist.
      In all other cases the limitation is 1/1e9h ( not during expected accumulated servicelife.)

  16. EaglePicher’s battery for Cessna is based on LiFePo4 technology, Boeing’s 787 battery is based on LiCoO2 technology. LiFePo4 is much safer, difficult to ignite. Even if Cessna will receive approval by end of the year, this does not mean that it will be easy for Boeing with a completely different technology, just putting around a safety box. If Boeing would change technology from LiCoO2 to LiFePo4 all the electronics and hardware would be impacted by significant changes. LiFePo4 has a nominal voltage of 3.3V/cell while LiCoO2 has 3.7V/cell. This would mean for the 787: 9 cells in series instead of currently 8 cells. Still a lot to do for Boeing … bad situation …

    • I am afraid Boeing might have to abandon Lithium-Cobalt. I see only two other possibilities:

      Lithium-Phosphate or Nickel-Cadmium.

      In the end they might have to do like Airbus did and switch to Ni-Cd. That means the Dreamliner would remain in the no-fly zone until 2014.

      It’s a complex situation for Boeing. But there are no indications that they are ready to abandon Lithium-Cobalt. I would not be surprised if they were forced to do so by the FAA and/or other agencies.

      My understanding is that wether it is Lithium-Phosphate or Nickel-Cadmium it would make little difference since both would require a complete redesign of the entire battery system. The only difference in the end will be the total weight (and volume) of the batteries.

      But if we are to believe Mike Sinnett, weight is not the main driver. For some reason the Dreamliner batteries need a lot of “torque”.

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