ATW Editor's Blog

787 Battery Fix?


Some stories appearing today, quoting unidentified sources (he’s such a font of expert information, that Mr. Anon.), saying that Boeing has identified a fix for the 787’s lithium ion problem that has left the Dreamliner fleet grounded.

Two thoughts. First, the issue is still under dual investigations by safety authorities in the US and Japan. Predicting the root cause of aircraft incidents, especially this early on in the investigations and with a hitherto unfamiliar technology, is problematic. However “expert” the source, he or she is unlikely to have the full picture — that’s why the investigations are ongoing. And in any case, history shows that a single root cause is the least likely outcome. Far more often, a combination of interacting factors are found to have been at play.

Second, even if a single, fixable malfunction related to the 787’s batteries has been found, it does not address the wider issue of containment. The 787 has multiple layers of containment in its design to ensure that in the case of a battery malfunction and overheating, any smoke or fire is contained.  Yet the JAL plane caught fire. The ANA 787   was flying at about 30,000 feet over Japan when it had a malfunction, which was characterized by  US NTSB Deborah Hersman chairman as a “smoke incident“and forced an emergency landing and full slide evacuation.

In her Jan. 24 briefing, Hersman said, “The expectation in aviation is never to experience a fire aboard an aircraft … The significance of these two events cannot be overstated … These events should not happen as far as the design of the aircraft. There are multiple systems that are in place to prevent [a battery failure from escalating to a serious event]. Those systems did not work.”

So a battery fix may or may not be close at hand, but that by itself is unlikely to get the 787 grounding lifted any time soon.

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