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.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Mar 17, 2013

--- ‘The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved Boeing’s proposal to fix battery issues on the 787 Dreamliner allowing the airframer to conduct limited test flights on two aircraft even as a safety investigation continues.
‘Boeing would be required to conduct "extensive testing and analysis to demonstrate compliance" with safety regulations, says the FAA today, almost two months after it grounded the 787 fleet on 16 January.
"This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed," says US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We won't allow the plane to return to service unless we're satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers."….’

Question ; “Has the Fat Lady really stopped singing ? “

---‘ Boeing's proposal involves three layers of protection to prevent overheating in the lithium-ion batteries that power the 787's auxiliary power unit: improved separation between the battery cells, installing ceramic-plated spacers between each of the cells and the addition of a containment and venting system so smoke cannot enter the passenger cabin.’

‘---"We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign," says FAA administrator Michael Huerta. "Today's announcement starts a testing process which will demonstrate whether the proposed fix will work as designed."

Of course, I am only a “know-nothing” contributor, with “no diploma in battery expertise”. But it seems unusual for us to read the word “fix”. Or are we misreading ? Since when was a fix straight into being a ”permanent solution” ?

---‘The FAA says Boeing's proposal would require the airframer to pass a series of tests before the 787 is returned to service.’

Even without a diploma, one seems able to say conclusively, at this stage, that, “The Fat Lady is still singing”
‘----"The plan establishes specific pass/fail criteria, defines the parameters that should be measured, prescribes the test methodology and specifies the test set-up and design," says the FAA. The agency's engineers will be present during testing and will be involved in the process, it adds.
‘The agency has approved limited flight tests for two aircraft, which will have the prototype versions of the new containment system installed.”

Will the Grand Masters of Batteries, Battery Systems, Battery Architecture and so on, please tell us if we are reading about a “containment approach”, ….. which, accordingly, would mean, … you know, “signify” that there is an implicit , even explicit SUGGESTION, indeed RECOGNITION that there could well be a fire issue, flammability problems, and even DURATION of containment questions, articulated around risks of slow (as opposed to RAPID) extinction.?

Many of us are highly interested in, and focused on, accurate, meaningful vocabulary, and the understanding thereof.

‘--- "The purpose of the flight tests will be to validate the aircraft instrumentation for the battery and battery enclosure testing in addition to product improvements for other systems," says the FAA.’

This reads as if there were still quite some way to go, quite some time & distance to cover. The Fat Lady is certainly still singing.

She is there for the “beholding”, the hearing, and the “listening to”, … is she not ?

--- ‘Boeing says the flight tests will be conducted on two aircraft: line number 86, which will be used in tests to demonstrate that the proposed solution works in flight and on the ground; and test aircraft ZA005, which will conduct engine improvement tests unrelated to the battery issue.’

Yes, that must be to test the GE GEnx-1B’s remedy for the cause of engine failure, during taxiing tests at Charleston airport.
No issue with the RR Trent 1000, packages A & B

---‘The airframer says additional testing may be scheduled as needed, and will provide additional details of the improved battery design in the days ahead.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive Ray Conner says the airframer has a "great deal of confidence" in its solution.’

No-one doubts Ray CONNER’s confidence, or his sincerity in displaying that “great deal of confidence”.
The question is, “Is such confidence justified?” And it is NOT for Ray CONNER to answer that.

‘---"Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions designed to significantly minimise the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane," he says.’

Excellent clarification ! We are, therefore, talking about “MINIMALISATION" of potential battery failure. We are not (even) talking about “risk-alienation” or “risk-neutralisation”.
There is, therefore, the acceptance of the quasi-inevitability of ignition-risk (through “flammability-propensity”), with the aim being CONTAINMENT of the concretisation or cristallisation of said risk.

Aah ! So, in really, it is just a FIX after all, & NOT a permanent solution.

Vocabulary is so important! It is a question of “Engineering Honesty” & “Engineering Ethics”, too.

‘-- Boeing says the test plans for its proposed solution were written based on the FAA's standards as well as guidelines published by the advisory committee, Radio Technical Commission on Aeronautics. These guidelines were not available when the original 787 battery certification plan was developed, says Boeing’.

Not available ? But “Engineering Honesty” & “Engineering Ethics” were around, were they not ? Oh ? What did we hear ? “Around, yes, ….. but not applied ?” Oh, no ! That can’t be right ! Adjust the microphone, please !

What sort of lame-duck excuse is that ? It is simply the proof that paper does not refuse ink !
To many, …. It is clear that the Fat Lady is still singing !

Let’s hope that Boeing find the root cause, and can develop a permanent solution swiftly & effectively !
We want to see those aircraft safely & soundly back up in the air.

But it does not take a diploma in Battery Expertise to come out with a ridiculous, “lame-duck” statement to the effect that “These guidelines were not available when the original 787 battery certification plan was developed,” !

And the Battery–Expertise merchants know it !
If ridicule could kill, there would be dead “talkers” all over the runway !

on Mar 19, 2013

i hope that the B787 battery fix resolve the issue very soon otherwise the dreamliner will be a great concern to passengers

on Mar 19, 2013

Nothing is perfect Karen, nobody could say it is 100% sure there will be no failure. The only thing sure in this world is taxes and death

on Mar 20, 2013

I would have thought by now this blog would have been updated with the newer information. Is this ATW plus?

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