Readers skeptical of detailed Boeing plans to fix the 787 battery issues

Readers aren’t convinced that Boeing has turned the corner on the planned 787 battery fixes detailed last week in two press conferences.

The results come as some surprise to us. Despite some messaging we thought fell short, we felt overall Boeing outlined a pretty strong set of fixes that were done probably in concert with the FAA Seattle office. We published polling Monday; here are the results as of this morning. These are actually worse than our polling a month ago, when readers were evenly split whether they would resume flying the 787 when it returns to service.

Clearly, Boeing and the airlines have a job to do with public perception to restore confidence in the airplane.

These polls admittedly are not scientific.

Does Boeing have good solutions to the 787 battery issues?

Answer Percent
No, Boeing still hasn’t gone far enough 55%
Yes, the press conferences outlined good solutions 28%
I don’t know 17%

Having heard or read the details, will you fly the 787 when it returns to service?

Answer Percent
Yes, I now have confidence in the 787 and the solution 34%
No, I still want to wait 1-2 years for proof 51%
Maybe–I’m not sure 15%

When will the 787 return to revenue service?

Answer Percent
Weeks, like Boeing thinks 7%
May 23%
June 25%
July 16%
August-December 2013 29%

KING 5 News (Seattle, NBC) reported that the 787 test flight planned for yesterday did not happen, but had no explanation. An aerospace engineer we asked said, “I would gather that since this is a “one shot to get it right” flight, BA is being rather overly cautious.  So I imagine it doesn’t take much for them to cancel a flight and wait for optimal conditions.”

Timing seems critical, however, if Boeing is to meet its goal of returning the 787 to service soon.

Reuters had this yesterday:

Boeing last week unveiled a new battery system and predicted the 787 would fly again within weeks rather than months.

Asked whether Boeing was presenting a best-case scenario, Osamu Shinobe, the architect of All Nippon Airways’ strategy to put the fuel-efficient 787 at the centre of the airline’s fleet planning, said, “That’s what we understand it to be.”

“The problem is we don’t know how long the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will take to finish its checks (on the new battery system),” he said in an interview.

For Boeing to meet its target, Shinobe explained the plane maker needs to complete certification testing this week, and gain quick FAA approval followed by an airworthiness directive soon after. It would then have to transport all the parts and equipment to 787s parked around the world to begin installing the new batteries. Boeing has said that could take a week per plane.

A side note: Weather conditions this week in the Seattle area are forecast to be pretty abysmal, with sometimes heavy rains and high winds. Whether this will be a factor for the test flight is unknown.

Bloomberg has this today:

Norwegian Air is among airlines affected by the idling of the global Dreamliner fleet on Jan. 16 in the wake of incidents with lithium-ion batteries. While Boeing has proposed a fix, it hasn’t given new delivery dates for planes the Oslo-based company should get from April, Kjos said in an interview.

“There’ll be a delay that hits us on the first two aircraft,” Kjos said. Norwegian Air has leased two Airbus SAS A340s to provide cover, one for two months, the other for three, during which time the 787s should arrive, he said.

This suggests NAS doesn’t expect its 787s until June or July at the earliest.

91 Comments on “Readers skeptical of detailed Boeing plans to fix the 787 battery issues

  1. I’m surprised only 51% said no.

    I still cannot see what has changed this time round. The previous tests failed to identify a problem, how are these tests going to be any more reliable?

    I have no faith in the 787 whatsoever and will not be flying it for a long time. I hope Boeing and their airline customers get this feedback – they need to hear it.

    • “Maybe” because “Yes” for flow risk on continental flights with lots of airports available.
      Clear “No” on transpacific or transatlantic routes.

    • I doubt many people will feel the same way. I remember the DC-10 cargo door incidents in 1972 and 1974. That didn’t stop me from getting on DC-10 in 1975, or anytime thereafter, even though there were many other incidents. I remember one time on being delayed in Copenhagen do to an issue with a door. As we sat on the tarmac chatting with the flight attendants, someone brought up the AA and Turkish door incidents. Many passengers heard the exchange, but no one expressed concern. We went back into the terminal for a couple of hours while they fixed theplane. I don’t recall anyone not getting back on the flight.

      Maybe things are different today, due to the 24-hour news cycle, and the cable networks tendency to beat a story to death in an effort to fill up air time. But I doubt this has any long-term affect.

  2. If I bought a ticket to fly on a 787, I would not want my flight to be part of the flight-test process, as it evidently was until the January grounding.

    As for flight-test conditions, I hope Boeing will be rigorous and subject this beefed-up bluebox to the harshest conditions it might encounter while in commercial service; that (of course) would include taking off in wet blustery PNW conditions, not waiting until the Seattle sun appears (which, judging by today, may not be until July!!). Oh well, at least the daffodils are starting to bloom.

  3. While it may be understandable to wait for good weather- it sort of begs the issue- most test flights are over eastern washington- idaho and in this case probably over a sparesely populated area. The weather yesterday was not all bad till the evening- in redmond( east side of lake washington )- it is hard to accept that as an excuse yesterday.

    This am- is rather dark, windy, and generally wet.

    something is missing here ???

  4. You’re missing the “does Boeing have good solutions” poll… you posted the return to service poll twice.

  5. I participated in the poll, but I can tell you I have absolutely no ability to make an informed judgement on when the 787 will return to service. I imagine I’m not alone. For the record, I guessed May.

  6. First off, there have been some mis-statements that the FAA has approved “the fix.” I think it’s better to say they have approved the program to test the fix.

    As for doing more studies to identify the problem, it sounds like they’ve exhausted all the known possibilities, and I give them the benefit of the doubt when they say the modification has been designed to cope with every failure mode they can think of. So let them get on with the test program. It may not be very satisfying but they can’t just sit there and wait for new ideas to spring up.

    As for flight testing, a lot more things can be tried on the ground (overcharging, power surges, overloading, short circuiting, vibration, impacts, misuse, heat, cold, humidity, decompression) at extremes that would be far more rigorous than could ever be done in the air. My hope is that the testing actually does discover a failure mode like the incidents that happened so they can be sure this mode can be addressed.

  7. “Reuters had this yesterday:

    Boeing last week unveiled a new battery system and predicted the 787 would fly again within weeks rather than months.”

    Even Reuters appears to be mal-informed. It is hardly a “new battery system’ — maybe barely a slightly improved “old battery system”. The old problem of inadequate heat dissipation from the crowded cells inside the old battery box still remains, and may now be even worsened due to addition of insulation being stuck between cells already too tightly jammed together.

    It appears to be an old battery box stuck inside another safety box, thereby creating an even worse heat dissipation problem, perhaps causing more frequent battery failures in the future. But no need to worry — the battery isn’t really needed because the engines can be started by other means when the 787 is on the ground, and by a ram-jet’s generator if they need to be restarted while airborne.

    And safety is assured because any toxic fumes will be vented outside the fuselage thereby providing greatly improved safety for the passengers’ lungs if not their limbs.

  8. The problem is not really that fix. I am pretty confortable that Boeing will now be able to address the shortfalls wrt the special conditions that were not met, not once but twice.

    The issue is that Boeing is missing a great opportuinity to decently byte the bullet and move to a better battery system (read proven).
    This fix is clearly negating the weight advantage of the Li-ion and will impose a lot of added maintnance costs.
    Yet it will be very difficult for Boeing to claim that the battery will never burn again, particularly to the public. They have started the PR exercise, but this not may fly this time (pun intended).

    They may bitterly regret this in the future, especialliy the shareholders.

  9. I think what the debate and poll shows is just how ill informed many people are. The 787 battery is being re-certified to the newest, latest, greatest standards and the revised battery has been modified to address every probable cause of the original failure. And if the worst happens the case will contain the fire and any toxic smoke/fumes/chemicals/ will be vented overboard.

    And with these facts we still have people who say they won’t fly the 787.

    As you might guess I’m a professional pilot for a major US Airline. And in my opinion the grounding was an excessive overreaction to the two incidents. Based on everythign I’ve read in both cases had the failure occurred in the worst possible place (say mid pacific 180mins from a divert field) neither would have resulted in a hull loss.

    As a professional pilot I’d be happy to fly the 787 today and even more so with the new battery.

    The entire grounding, in my opinon, is a politcal reaction by political bodies driven by a 24 hour media that isn’t the slightest bit interested in facts but only in “stories”. You doubt the grounding is political? If this was really just about the safety of the public then Boeing should have been able to continue test flights and airlines should have been able to get ferry permits to move their fleets home. There was no reason to think that 787’s were goign to suddenly start fallign from the sky.

    • “I think what the debate and poll shows is just how ill informed many people are.”

      121pilot hits the nail on the head, to a large degree–and therein lies the problem for Boeing, ANA, JAL and other operators to rebuild confidence in the 787. Most of the flying public is uninformed or ill-informed, including many frequent fliers, the latter being the bread-and-butter of the airlines. We thought we would start to see a shift in favor of the airplane from our first polling; instead it went the other direction. This gives an indication of the brand damage that needs to be repaired.

      • This sounds a bit like a new, fancy and expensive paintjob
        to remedy things that would have needed fixing under the hood.

    • @121 Pilot

      The problem with most of our posting here is that we don’t really know what we are saying and just write stuff because we are not in agreement with certain company or its products (or maybe because we just feel like it). Very rarely, (as in your case) we state something here that is unbiased and informative. Actually, I remember when a lot more readers use to post comments here, but not anymore as you normally see the same few posters on every single post by Scott.

      • This would be the last place to get an informed opinion on anything american, Boeing or non EU made.

      • The 787 battery debacle has generated a lot of discussion here, by a somewhat different set of posters than usual. If you look at Scott’s other posts, you will see a difference in people posting.

        I respect 121 pilot’s willingness to fly the 787, but does being a professional pilot qualify one to determine the safety of an aircraft’s electrical system? I think we need experienced and skilled engineers to set the standards and verify compliance, and really those engineers should not be on any aircraft manufacturer’s payroll.

      • Many of the posters like to see their comments online and try to impress other readers by being contrary. Boeing has poured all its resources into this problem and I have no qualms about flying on a 787.
        How many on this forum are aviation experts with knowledge of electrical systems, but instead most on this forum are just aviation junkies, people who like to watch aircraft at airports and have aviation band radios, which by the way, I do also. I am a retired airline worker and can testify that the FAA is very thorough in inspections and verifying repair records.
        Let Boeing do its work and in the end we will all see how the problem can be solved by those in the know. Boeing has been designing and making airliners used by airlines around the world and they have a good track record. As we speak, some of the smartest minds in electronic systems are examining,testing, and pushing the electrical systems to the limit to ensure the 787 will be safe.

    • I think there’s an aspect of trust here and of Boeing not having done what they said they had done. I am not a professional pilot and i certainly don’t know anything about batteries. but I do know about creating safety critical applications and the importance of following process. I also recognise that Boeing has fallen short on the 787 project for various reasons.

      The main thing now is that the 787 flies without its battery catching fire again. Will it? Who knows? What gives us confidence now that they have fixed the problem?

      Final point. The 787 battery isn’t as far as I know being certified to the “newest, latest, greatest standards ” Boeing is giving the impression that it is. That’s an example of the problem I am taking about

      • By the way. I don’t want to give the impression that a non compliant plane is actually a dangerous one. It is one in which we lack confidence. There’s a subtle but important difference.

    • I did not participate in the vote mainly because I could not find the right options to thick:

      Would I fly the 787: YES

      Did Boeing have a good solution: reading their PR spin the answer is NO but after reading some more technical explanations of what the solution is trying to achieve I understand it is probably the only solution which will get the 787 in the air in a reasonable timeframe. But it remains my point that the way it was communicated was horrible – my first response to seeing the PDF was “did any engineer check this?”.

      Does Boeing need to do more: YES. This is the one I have biggest issue with. From a safety perspective I think this solution will work. From an aircraft operator perspective, I think this is just a band aid. I just can not see that that the whole electrical system is anything else than an expensive maintenance headache which will cause dispatch reliability to be below best in class while the 787 was targeted to be best in class. To me the statement that the root cause may never be found is almost like saying “it is so complicated we don’t know what is happening”. From what has been published, I get the impression that the electrical system as a whole does not have the maturity it needs to have even when taking into account how early in the program we still are. I am pretty sure Boeing engineers are working hard to improve that, it is just a pity that management makes such a mess of communicating these efforts.
      BTW to make a statement that you might never find a root cause has never been accepted by any japanese customer I worked with…

      • I also agree with NdB: Short term measures OK (stress: temporary).Plane safe enough to fly. Plane needs to be brought into compliance as soon as possible. Perhaps Boeing are doing this anyway, but I think it should be a formal condition of agreeing to the temporary measures.

        Boeing’s aggressive PR damages its reputation – although it may be effective, short term, in getting the plane flying as soon as possible. Boeing has a choice whether it wants to be seen as precautionary or aggressive, “We will go the extra miile” or “Never mind that, we think it’s just fine”. Boeing has always chosen the second and should expect the consequences of its choice.

      • NdB posted the most informed and thought-out opinion. I also hope that the proposed fix using the problem batteries (that failed many more times than just the 2 incidents) is only the fastest way to get the planes flying again and not the permanent solution. Even the current NiCd batteries which require watering are a better solution then the box-in-box one with greatly reduced heat dissipation most likely leading increased probability of failure. Contrary to the Boeing’s Tokyo presentation slide, ‘fibrous’ NiCd batteries used in 777 aircraft can deliver as much current as the Li-ion ones chosen and so can NiMH batteries safely used in millions of hybrid cars which are also sealed and therefore mainenance-free.
        Boeing made mistake many years ago by selecting the largest-ever-built, cobalt based Li-ion batteries — the most unsafe combination avoided by producers of electric vehicles. Hopefully they understand it now and are working towards a better, long-term solution.

        • Battery Pro said …NdB posted the most informed and thought-out opinion. I also hope that the proposed fix using the problem batteries (that failed many more times than just the 2 incidents) is only the fastest way to get the planes flying again and not the permanent solution.

          Sorry- BA has widely touted that this solution- if approved- is the FINAL FIX .

    • You would be a brave person to keep the 787 flying after those two incidents. I don’t build planes, I don’t fly them and I don’t personally know anyone who does. But you ask me which “political” body I’m going to side with on issues of safety in aviation? It is never the manufacturer. Don’t care which part of the world they come from.

      Also 121 pilot, what have the US and Japan political bodies got against Boeing to bring about such an unnecessary (as I read from your post) grounding of the 787?

  10. To say that no one here knows anything about airplanes is a stretch. I am aware of the backgrounds of some who post here and they have areas of expertise. No one knows all, and I am suspicious of anyone who claims that they do. I left Boeing 40 years ago, so I cannot claim to be up on every aspect of how a new plane is developed now. I did however stay in touch with friends who stayed on and developed new contacts along the way. I met with one as recently as last night. My area of strength is math and statistics. I have some knowledge of composites in uses other than airplanes, and of the statistics of erratic composite failure in those uses.

    My suspicion of what I am told by Boeing doesn’t come from what I know personally, and it shouldn’t because I couldn’t build an airplane. It comes from what Boeing management has said about this project for the last 6 years. Every press release for 6 years has said that the 787 is on course and has not generated exceptional expenses. We all know, or should know, that there have been many optimistic forecasts by Boeing management that simply haven’t happened. Start with the roll-out on 7-8-7. Was that a plane that was ready to fly in 2 months from roll-out (2 months having been about average for Boeing in the jet age)? It was not. In June 2009 the first flight was imminent every day. It didn’t happen until December. When the test program began in December 2009, it was to be completed by September 15, 2010. Most of Boeing management stayed with that until at least July. Scott Fancher, to his credit, was publicly saying that the test program would run to early 2011. In fact the test program ran until August 2011, more than twice as long as Boeing management predicted. I won’t go through the entire litany; it would take too much space.

    The point is that many of us are suspicious that Boeing has not been open with dialogue. I am suspicious that no one in senior Boeing management knows as much about building a new plane as I do. I already said I couldn’t build one. But we are now expected to believe that all is well. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. (I wish I could say that the way Mr Scott did) I have believed all of my life that Boeing built the finest airplanes in the world. I can tell you today that the 777 is statistically the safest commercial airplane ever built. But I can also tell you that the years of building 787s by press release have damaged my confidence in what rolls out of Boeing factories. Boeing management created the chasm of suspicion and distrust. It is up to Boeing management to repair the damage. I think I will have difficulty believing anything about the 787 until it completes 2 or 3 years of virtually flawless performance.

    I think that is what is measured in these polls.

    • AMEN TIM ! What some do not realize or admit is that anyone currently working on the 787 or other areas in Boeing dare not speak out in any manner which could be traced to them ( except the PR types, etc )

      And even for those recently retired- or who know many many involved, comments if posted, even under anon names are quite circumspect by design.

      For real old guys like myself – many still know or can relate or read between the lines of the BA PR- ben there- dun that- got the t shirt.

      Sometimes- us old guys can sort of say ‘ look under the green painted rock to the left of the flagpole ” and others will know exactly what we mean.

      Like Tim – I have great difficulty in believing most of the BA PR

      And it definitely is NOT the old Boeig- which had flaws galore- but also had in many cases integrity.

      • Scott, and since this is supposed to about the polls, I chose option 3 – I don’t know because there is no way I can have an educated opinion. On the second question I chose no I am not going for a year or 2. On the 3rd question I chose May, I think.

    • Sort of off topic I was reading yesterday about Edwards Deming. His principles were hugely influential in the post war Japanese quality renaissance. They appear almost the antithesis of Boeing’s practises on the 787:

      . Deming advocated that all managers need to have what he called a System of Profound Knowledge, consisting of four parts:
      1. Appreciation of a system : understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services ( explained below );
      2. Knowledge of variation : the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;
      3. Theory of knowledge : the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known.
      4. Knowledge of psychology : concepts of human nature.

      • In the 70’s- BA invited Deming to give a few lectures to the Boeing managers- and about a year or two later, he came back. As usual, in those days before power point was viewfoil type presentations

        after a few of those presented to Deming on how wonderful said managers had done- Deming ( somewhat outspoken ) said paraphrased ” you haven’t paid attention to anything I said ”

        For some unknown reason – he was never invited Back

        So then in the 80’s- we got Juran video presentations attendance required

        Then a bit later the famous 5-S sequence games

        also the plan do check act

        then the Total Quality Control in the late 80’s

        and a few others – sort of the flavor of the month/quarter/year depending on where one was

        then in the 90’s- the Toyota concept of Just in time hit the management types resulting in many trips for the washed to observe and study. Thus the idea percolated that airplanes could be built the same way . . .

        And I’m sure I missed about a dozen others before or after

  11. Can anybody explain why, if the batteries are oh so unnecessary, why they are there? Easiest way out of the grounding, at least temporarily, would have been to pull them out and make an external power connection. It looks to me like Boeings arguments about the use of the batteries in service is using some fancy semantics to avoid some explaining. These batteries, and their protective cases, now weigh aboat 250kg. I doubt that airlines are flying that around for fun.

    • Think about what backup infrastructure is required for not only ETOPS.

      The NTSB investigation indicated that the APU goes down if its battery “goes away”.

      An Air Transat like powerless landing with a battery-less 787 would have made it onto the runway but would have overrun the runway: Low airspeeds make the RAT ineffective and the electric braking systems would have gone inop on the second half of the runway.

      Most savety and backup features are “not used” in regular flight.

      In this context I do wonder who is addressed in these newsbytes.

      The general public ?
      Those could probably be convinced with a bit of strategic communications.
      The professional customers or some official certification body ?
      No way without some ( a lot of ?) pressure applied from off stage.

      • Actually it was meant to be a rhetorical question, but now when you talk about the newsbits I´m not sure of how rhetorical it really is.

  12. Let’s hope that 787 battery fix is a good one. I just read the FAA furloughed all 2800 of their aviation safety inspectors who, on the behalf of public safety, are the professionals that are (were?) supposed to make sure it works during actual passenger operations and not just on a workbench. Honestly, you can’t script this stuff.

  13. Will the test flight test the functionality of the bigger box & its venting during a forced battery thermal runaway under the worst allowable conditions, for 180 minutes?

  14. Don Shuper :
    AMEN TIM ! What some do not realize or admit is that anyone currently working on the 787 or other areas in Boeing dare not speak out in any manner which could be traced to them ( except the PR types, etc )

    I noticed that CM (a Boeing employee) had stopped posting here, so I did a little digging. His account has also been disabled on Tdscanuck, the other very public Boeing employee there, has not posted since Jan 31.

    I’d call that Boeing PR belatedly getting their act together.

    • Hmmm maybe both are in the position of Spook or Rodney in wizard of id chained upside down in the Boeing Dungeon ??

      Boeing does have the ‘ right’ to hammer any employee who speaks out with bad vibes- so called proprietary info ( determined before OR after the fact ) against the company.

      First amendment rights are left AT the gate.

      such as from the 43 page ethical guidelines
      The Ethical Guidelines is a forty-three page manual that contains a one-page preamble—the “Code of Conduct”—followed by a table of contents and almost forty pages explaining the Employer’s business ethics policies and additional business compliance issues, with examples.
      The “Code of Conduct” provides:
      The [Employer] Code of Conduct outlines expected behaviors for all [] employees. [The Employer] will conduct its business fairly, impartially, in an ethical and proper manner, in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and consistent with the [Employer’s] values. In conducting its business, integrity must . . . .

      As an employee of the [Employer], I will ensure that:
      • I will not engage in any activity that might create a conflict of interest for me or the company.
      • I will not take advantage of my [company] position to seek personal gain through the inappropriate use of [Employer] or non-public information or abuse my position. This includes not engaging in insider trading.
      • I will follow all restrictions on use and disclosure of information. This includes following all requirements for protecting [Employer] information and ensuring that non-Boeing proprietary information is used and disclosed only as authorized by the owner of the information or as otherwise permitted by law.
      • I will observe fair dealing in all of my transactions and interactions.
      • I will protect all company, customer and supplier assets and use them only for appropriate company-approved activities.
      • Without exception, I will comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations.
      • I will promptly report any illegal or unethical conduct to management or other appropriate authorities (i.e., Ethics, Law, Security, EEO).

      Keep in mind that employees must sign every year . . .or be fired

      • In my myopic view of Boeing hatefullness I had assigned CM a more “official” position. I could well be wrong.

  15. I cannot explain how Boeing got in the credibility situation it is today.

    All employees sign up for this Code of Conduct, also very senior employees.

    • Obviously you have never dealt with the Ethics department- sometimes they do great- sometimes they more harm than good, and sometimes they do horrid.

      But they are there for only one reason – part of the lockheed papers and Tanker fiasco

  16. .Any current employee of a company domiciled in the U.S. theoretically enjoys a constitutional right to free speech, but common sense should also apply. Not only can it be hazardous to career goals, but why bite the hand that feeds you?

    Retirees probably need not be concerned about such things, and that’s why I favor these postings — maybe they will actually help to clear the air with better solutions. If retired engineers need not worry about their careers anymore, maybe their comments can lead to some improved solutions both for their alma-mater and for retired engineers like me who also are members of the flying public.

  17. Uwe :
    This sounds a bit like a new, fancy and expensive paintjob
    to remedy things that would have needed fixing under the hood.

    Except for you and Keesje, fanbo… cheerleaders extraordinary, there is absolutely NOTHING Boeing could say that would make you say one word that was good about it, the company, or the plane. You are giddy with schadenfreude over this whole thing, and have been since the start. You know nothing about batteries, but since the start of this suddenly become an “expert” in all things battery. Keesje sees conspiracy behind every step Boeing makes. Both of you are laughable.

  18. A number of these posts have evolved into some personally-directed comments, an entire debate over ethics and things other than the topic of the polling.

    Get back on track or I will close comments.


    • It would be helpful if the total number of respondents to the poll were listed. The skepticism noted ** probably** has a lot to do with the skewed bell curve of respondents who are interested in aviation, know of this net, and are reasonably familiar with airplanes- aerospace and the like. Granted it is not intended to be a scientific poll, but even so it may well represent a significant section of the ultimate customer- consumer.

      Add a dose of those who have a varied level of experience in the field- and the takinbg apat of the BA PR ( and engineering and management types ) is almost a certainty.

      I’m sure we all assume BA for its own reasons monitors this net and comments.

      Does it or will it ( comments or ‘ analysis” change anything of substance at BA re the Battery fiasco ?

      I doubt we will ever know .

  19. Lies, damm lies, and BA PR
    Boeing Works to Redeem Dreamliner
    Plane Maker Hopes to Persuade Potential Passengers That Troubled 787 Will Be Safe to Fly

    extracts below

    ….Part of the strategy appears to be Boeing’s recent public statements on the nature of the battery incidents.

    Aviation experts have traditionally placed smoke and fire events among the biggest aviation safety risks. Last month, safety board chairman Deborah Hersman said “the expectation in aviation is never to experience a fire aboard an aircraft.”

    From the beginning, Boeing has said any fire on an aircraft is a serious issue. But in two press briefings last week, senior Boeing managers provided different, less serious descriptions than Ms. Hersman in discussing the 787’s battery problems.

    Mike Sinnett, the 787’s chief engineer, told reporters that “in the last 10 years, there have been thousands upon thousands” of battery malfunctions on commercial planes, making such events a reality of airline operations, adding that “many of them have resulted in smoke and fire.”

    But Mr. Sinnett and other Boeing officials have emphasized that safe flight of the planes wasn’t endangered because other safety systems kicked in as planned.

    Ron Hinderberger, another veteran 787 engineer, said fallout from battery failures “happens on our airplanes week in and week out.”
    . . .

    BUT . . .Ray Valeika, former Delta Air Lines DAL – head of maintenance and engineering, said that over the course of his 35-year aviation career, he couldn’t recall a single case of another aircraft battery catching fire on a jetliner operated by a major U.S. carrier.

    OK whom do you believe ???

    Why ?? Why NOT ??

    • Hate to say it but I tend to believe Mr. Valeika since I believe he has nothing to gain by making his statement. Not to mention that I got the impression that the battery issues with the 787, before the two January incidents, were not as common as Boeing was trying to imply. On top of that, I don’t think I like the idea that battery malfunctions result “in smoke and fire” more regularly than thought.

  20. Boeing proposed a comprehensive solution that addresses all possible causes. I would fly a 787 as soon as Boeing and the FAA said it was airworthy. Does anyone really believe Boeing would put the 787 back into service if there was a remote possibility the battery could again cause a problem, that would be suicidal. Watch and see how quickly Airbus copies this solution.

    • I thought it was revealed soon after the non-fires that Airbus had an externally vented battery planned…

    • Eric, that one of the issues.

      After the first fire MoD,FAA and Boeing gave a press conference claiming the 787 was absolutely safe, to ground it a few days later. Since then people look to the NTSB because they feel theymight be more independent. and objective. Boeings approach of the last few weeks (no fire, no thermal runaway, back in weeks) combined with the deafening silence from the FAA, probably strenghtens that feeling.

      Howard, maybe the way you think about me matches the way others see you.

      • Anyone remember Powell’s presentation in the UN ~10years ago ( and the general rethoric used to press that case forward )?

        • I found that UN address to be particularly painful. Someone who I had respected up to that point trying to sell complete BS to the world to force someone else’s agenda on the rest of us.

          I found none of the “proof” to be convincing then… and eventually it was shown to be a crock of poop after all. Just a shame that a lot of people bought it at the time.

          There are some similarities in the Boeing PR methodology, now you mention it.

          As NdB described so eloquently – it’s not the actual problem & solution which irks me… it’s the way the whole thing is being handled… like they’re trying to “get away with” something by lying to us.

      • Severly of topi, but I saw an interview yesterday that said Powell was handpicked because of his credibility.. No-one would have believed Cheney or one of the Neo-Cons.

        Back on topic, maybe Scott can mix in some non 787 battery topics. Maybe I’m getting a bit overloaded..

    • In a brief and admittedly cynical response, based on years of observing the politics in aviation, I cannot agree with you, Eric. For Boeing, it would only be suicidal if they put into service a faulty product knowing their partners in government oversight were unreliable and ready to expose the failure. But, so long as Boeing knows FAA is on their side, no matter what, well, at that point all that matters is to make the money flow. Fly the bird, and if a problem develops later, be ready to attribute blame to a dead pilot or an outsourced ramp contractor or some other cause that assigns minimum financial damage to FAA and Boeing.

      • You describe an addictive and habit building process.
        The participants “surf” on a cresting wave. When it finally gets into shallow waters the ride will stop hard at some point.

  21. 121 Pilot :I think what the debate and poll shows is just how ill informed many people are. The 787 battery is being re-certified to the newest, latest, greatest standards and the revised battery has been modified to address every probable cause of the original failure. And if the worst happens the case will contain the fire and any toxic smoke/fumes/chemicals/ will be vented overboard.

    All well and good but you seem to have overlooked or ignored the fact, and it is a fact, that Boeing failed, and that by a great margin, to meet the special requirements set out by the FAA that Boeing agreed to meet. This in itself has many doubting Boeing’s credibility. Yes, Boeing has a great history of designing and building great aircraft but their record for this particular program is more on the side of spotty.

    121 Pilot : As you might guess I’m a professional pilot for a major US Airline. And in my opinion the grounding was an excessive overreaction to the two incidents. Based on everything I’ve read in both cases had the failure occurred in the worst possible place (say mid pacific 180mins from a divert field) neither would have resulted in a hull loss.

    I am an aerospace engineer with over 20 years of experience in structures, systems integration and flight test. Like you, I have done quite a bit of reading on this subject and I do not agree with your assessment. Does this make me ill-informed as well?
    Furthermore, your comments give me cause for concern as to your attitude towards safety. I only mention this since you seem to be trying to imply that since you are a pilot, your opinion carries more weight than anybody else commenting here. Your opinion, might I add, does not seem to agree with the official stance of the ALPA, who are on record as being against the use of Li-Ion batteries on commercial aircraft.
    You seem to be in a minority with your opinion that there would have been no problem flying for three hours with a burning (oh sorry, Boeing has said it wasn’t burning, just smoldering away nicely, thank you very much) battery before finding a place to land. The first two who have disagreed with you are the two pilots who elected to land their plane.

    121 Pilot : The entire grounding, in my opinion, is a political reaction by political bodies driven by a 24 hour media that isn’t the slightest bit interested in facts but only in “stories”. You doubt the grounding is political? If this was really just about the safety of the public then Boeing should have been able to continue test flights and airlines should have been able to get ferry permits to move their fleets home.

    So are you saying its politics or that it is media pressure that has caused the groundings?
    So let me get this straight, a democratic government wants to damage a company whose primary operations are based in one of the strongest democratic leaning states there is? This company having its headquarters in the state where the President of the USA has is “political power base”.

    Yes, that makes complete sense.

    Oh, and as has already been pointed out by another, it was the Japanese airlines, Boeing’s customers, who initially grounded 48% of the fleet on their own initiative, and at great cost to themselves. I don’t see where the politics come into play here.

    • Indeed. So a question to 121Pilot. In the situation the ANA pilots were in, would you have continued to fly to your destination? If the answer is yes, kindly tell us which airline you fly for, I’d like to avoid it in the future.

  22. Oscar :@121 Pilot
    The problem with most of our posting here is that we don’t really know what we are saying and just write stuff because we are not in agreement with certain company or its products (or maybe because we just feel like it). Very rarely, (as in your case) we state something here that is unbiased and informative. Actually, I remember when a lot more readers use to post comments here, but not anymore as you normally see the same few posters on every single post by Scott.

    I am trying to figure out if you are beig sarcastic or not.

    Which would it be?

  23. Keesje raises an excellent question with his comment “Will the test flight test the functionality of the bigger box & its venting during a forced battery thermal runaway under the worst allowable conditions, for 180 minutes?”

    For safety reasons, such testing should first be done on the ground, then repeated in flight. How hot does the box get? How hot does the vent tube get? Is the diameter of the tube adequate? Does the tube’s expansion due to sudden heating when the blowout occurs cause any problems? Does the pressure release membrane function as expected? What happens to the airstream after it blows out while in flight? Is there any risk of cabin depressurization due to a malfunction (e.g. a crack forming) in the vent tube before, during or after a blowout?

    • Assume battery goes bonkers at 30- 35K feet-

      boom box delta p to cabin becomes approx 10 psi. does box bend and collapse like a tin can under external pressure?

      Does 10 psi delta p make conditions worse for battery and shutoff relays/switches

      Does open tube sound like a pipe organ ?

      Unlikely to cause significant cabin depressurization if tube fractures/leaks or box crumples – but might just be enough to drop masks

      Oh wait – it cant happen – and there is no fire- and no thermal runaway – and it is a final fix

      See – its right here in the power point presentation and on the speech !!

      Hmmm- how about trust but verify !!

      • The way the box is done it should be good for anything from vacuum to upwards of 600 psi inside.

        “Assume battery goes bonkers at 30- 35K feet-”

        nothing much will happen for now.
        But :
        continue with an Air Transat like scenario.
        The plane will savely land _and_ then maim passengers in a
        runway overrun : no brakes!

        If anything has changed in respect to savety aspects it will
        be due to the little changes on the sidelines:
        * lower charging levels.
        * higher depletion threshhold.
        * charger near the battery on an electrically seen “short leash”
        * condensation avoidance/draining

        What this will not achieve is fixing all other electrical issues reported. ( but without specific information )

        apropos: 25 years developing/designing in mag-lev, scientific instrumentation, space hardware and related stuff
        should have about the weight of a medium sized butterfly.

        • re the no brakes – not quite- from what I understand- the battery is used for braking when towing the plane and no engines or apu is running. When landing, there should be normally 2 engines and 4 generators on line, or in the case of total engine out and no apu some power from the RAT and ‘ the other battery ” ..

          As to the negative pressure – if the SS box is 1/8 inch thick – and can contain x psi internal pressure even with a burst diaphram open ( how many psi max ?? ) it is NOT necessairily true that external pressure of say 10 psi will not deform the box or the pass-thrus to the point of leakage as the BOX will probabably be very hot !!, and also the remaining cells will now have a similar internal to external pressure delta.

          Now BA may have taken all this into consideration – maybe not- considering the PR about NO fire- NO thermal runaway mantra.

          And it also seems in the WSJ article re firefighting training in Dallas- the comment by one of the Boston crew said they had a hard time putting out the fire ! er ah must have just been a hot spot on their thermal imaging- since everyone now has it on good authority ( Mike S ) that there was no fire- not thermal runaway- and no explosion which scattered hot debris far enough to burn a fighters neck.

          After all – who would want to disagree with someone in authority who wasn’t there and didn’t get burned !!!!

          • From information available I get in respect to reliability/availability:
            APU and APU battery are hard linked/chained ( APU unavailable without battery )
            RAT and MAIN battery are hard linked/chained ( no braking below min RAT speeds )

            With the failure rate of the battery having been shown to be some magnitudes higher than RAT or APU the availability of either RAT or APU is slightly less than the battery ( with 1/25k hours probably much too low ).
            While NiCds probably have comparable or better reliability than either APU or RAT which explains the historic arrangement.

        • When other professionals question Boeing re the NO fire bit, it shows how far down BA has sunk … from design news

          Boeing Should Never Say Never
          Charles Murray

          Charles Murray, Senior Technical Editor, Electronics & Test

          Boeing Co. recently insisted that the new battery design for its 787 Dreamliner “eliminates the possibility of fire.” That may have pacified the average consumer, but it hasn’t made engineers very happy.

          In comments to our post on Boeing’s announcement, readers have compared the Dreamliner to the Titanic. They’ve called the lead engineer “cocky,” accused Boeing of a “lack of thinking,” and contended that its management “should be hanging their collective heads in shame.”

          For me, admittedly, this is tough to watch. I met members of Boeing’s technical and management staff 17 years ago, when Design News presented Alan Mulally with its Engineer of the Year Award for his leadership in the design of the 777. And we met again in 2007, when we named Tom Cogan of Boeing our Engineer of the Year. Talking to them on both those occasions, and hearing how they had successfully managed such immense and complex projects, I was in awe. And I’ve remained in awe ever since.

          That’s why it’s so tough now to watch Boeing follow one technical blunder with another. To the public, maybe its recent comments don’t seem like a blunder. After all, saying that its new lithium-ion battery design eliminates the chance of fire is the ultimate vote of confidence, isn’t it? Saying that a fire “can’t begin, develop, or be sustained” is a sign that the problem has been solved, right?

          goes on . . .

      • I severely doubt that the thick steel box and titanium pipe they showed would suffer anything due to pressure differences. There is a blow-out valve, after all – so the overpressure from a battery failure will be minimal before it rapidly reduces to the underpressure from cabin vs atmospheric pressures. If mm thick aluminium fuselage skin can hold that, then…

    • Actually that’s not true. We don’t test the wing to 150% limit load in flight and similarly there’s no reason to test the battery box to full thermal runaway in flight.

      As long as they *do* test for a major battery fire in lab conditions and as long as that test is ***representative*** then it’s fine.

  24. Strange but true in China a man was riding his batterie powered bike and at full thotle 8mph the batterie exploded and burned his buttocks i hope that he was not doing a test for Boeing.

      • Uwe, thanks for this link to the Japanese photos —

        I wish I could understand the Japanese text that goes with those photos, but the photos alone provoke some assumptions for me that raise a number of questions.

        Does the photo on page 5 shows the battery cells in process of assembly with their guts all stretched out in the open air atop all those white tables? Is that blue plastic sheeting on the floor intended to avoid stirring up dust or dirt from the floor? The workers appear to be wearing ordinary shoes and clothes, also no hair covering. This is hardly a truly clean room. Can dust and stuff contaminate those cell films before they are rolled up?

        The battery schematic diagram on page 10 is interesting but incomplete because it doesn’t show any interconnection between the two BMU’s and anything else. Also, isn’t there an ac input for the BCU battery charger unit?

        Please excuse my ignorance regarding some of this stuff — I’m just trying to learn.

        • Thanks, Uwe — the caption over the photo of the cell elements was translated into “Research status of the cell elements” so maybe it isnt a room where cells are assembled — just an examination room maybe like in a morgue?

          Here’s an interesting/amusing demonstration for you. It was made for students in a physics lab, but it could also illustrate what can happen through the vent tube if the batery blows out at 39000 ft. altitude

      • page 4
        diagram shows the 3 jelly bales assembled into one cell package and the photo a single jelly roll in a “showroom” partly disassembled arrangement
        page 5
        is disassembly. i.e. during postmortem
        compare to the NTSB pictures showing similar activity.

        The charger has a common GND connection
        and one 28VDC supply contact and one contact leading to the battery. The round mil type connector carries all diagnostic signals to the battery “J1”.
        ref: NTSB:520451.pdf

    • It looks like NTSB is seriously irritated that a member of the investigation team (Boeing) uses and opinionates information without consulting the rest of the team/ NTSB first.

      Opinions (no fire) the NTSB doesn’t agree with, but are publicly used for PR purposes, suggesting they are agreed upon observations from the team. Perception management.

      Boeing must have developed a feeling they are irreplaceable, untouchable, will get away with everything. Maybe they are correct.

  25. From one of the Bloomberg”s articles that Scott referred to above:

    – The National Transportation Safety Board said Boeing didn’t inform investigators about what it planned to say in the March 15 briefing in Tokyo, which is “inconsistent with our expectations” from a company involved in an accident probe, agency General Counsel David Tochen wrote in a letter yesterday.

    – The letter signals tension in an investigation with high stakes for Boeing, which is trying to limit damage to the image of its high-efficiency plane once it’s cleared to fly.

    – The agency stopped short of restricting Boeing’s access to its investigation.

    – These parties sign a legal form saying they “must refrain from providing opinions or analysis of the accident.”

    – In some previous cases, the NTSB has gone so far as to throw participants off an investigation for violating its rules.

    • The professor wanted to make an impression on his students, but in the end it is one of his students who actually made a “real” impression on him! 😉

      • Very interesting, Uwe. Your reply reminds me of a tour visit I made many years ago as a member of our IEEE Life Members group from the University of Pnnsylvania.

        We went to the Boeing factory in Ridley, PA. and entered the gigantic wind tunnel there — while it was off, of course. It takes so much electric power to run that it is necessary to schedule its load with the electric company for operation at odd times.

        I believe they were upgrading military helicopters and working to develop Ospreys at the time of our tour. But I’ll never forger that huge wind tunnel!

    • Yes.

      Long answer: if it was being heated to a great degree then I’m certain the pressure valve would have already blown while the fire built up steam – so to speak. To me you can *either* have a sudden explosion (with no earlier overpressure) *or* you can have a fire releasing heat and a much slower release of gases.

    • It won’t heat to 500°C.
      You have enough energy available to heat just the battery to 5..600°C.
      With the trippled mass of the box ( and the higher specific heat of stainless steel ) you imho won’t get much beyond 200°C if equilibrium is reached. The content at one time may be hotter. Weak points probably are the High current and the Sensors connector.
      You would need high differential pressure hermetic, high temp ones for that ( from the exhibit at least the high current one is the exact same that is in the original battery box 😉

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