Boe­ing test­ing found re­mote bat­tery-fire risk

The Pak Banker - - 6BUSINESS -

Pre­pro­duc­tion tests of bat­ter­ies on Boe­ing Co. (BA)’s 787 Dream­liner didn’t start a fire dur­ing an in­ten­tional short-cir­cuit, lead­ing the com­pany to con­clude the risks of a blaze were re­mote, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. report.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, which re­leased pre­lim­i­nary find­ings yes­ter­day on a Jan­uary bat­tery fire, said it will hold an in­ves­tiga­tive hear­ing in April on the de­sign and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the 787’s lithium-ion bat­tery sys­tem.

“It really ap­pears that in­ad­e­quate test­ing was done or a fail­ure to an­tic­i­pate th­ese fail­ure modes,” Pa­trick Veillette, a pi­lot and former mil­i­tary ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said in an in­ter­view.

The NTSB report didn’t iden­tify the un­der­ly­ing cause of a short-cir­cuit that, ac­cord­ing to safety board in­ves­ti­ga­tors, led to a bat­tery fire aboard a Ja­pan Air­lines Co. 787 in Bos­ton on Jan. 7.

Boe­ing’s new air­craft, built with light car­bon-fiber ma­te­ri­als in­stead of metal to be more ef­fi­cient, has been grounded world­wide since Jan. 16 af­ter a sec­ond lithium-ion bat­tery fail­ure. It was the first such com­mer­cial air­craft ground­ing since 1979.

The JAL Dream­liner bat­tery caught fire on the ground af­ter land­ing. An All Nip­pon Air­ways Co. (9202) 787 made an emer­gency land­ing in Ja­pan nine days later af­ter a bat­tery emit­ted smoke and fumes.

The NTSB report is “a pos­i­tive step in the progress to­ward com­plet­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Jan. 7 event in Bos­ton,” Marc Bir­tel, a spokesman at Boe­ing’s com­mer­cial head­quar­ters in Seat­tle, said in an e-mail. “The Boe­ing team has worked tire­lessly in sup­port of the NTSB to help de­velop an un­der­stand­ing of the event and will con­tinue to do so.” Boe­ing is still re­view­ing the ma­te­rial re­leased yes­ter­day, Bir­tel said. Boe­ing rose $1.97, or 2.5 per­cent, to close yes­ter­day at $81.05 in New York trad­ing.

In ad­di­tion to the in­ves­tiga­tive hear­ing, the NTSB plans to hold a fo­rum on lithium-bat­tery safety in April. Fires linked to lithium-based bat­ter­ies have been in­volved in three cargo air­craft ac­ci­dents since 2006.

The U. S. Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Jan. 11 it was re­view­ing the 787’s safety to en­sure that noth­ing was over­looked dur­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In ad­di­tion to the 787’s car­bon skin and frame, Boe­ing in­stalled un­prece­dented new elec­tri­cal sys­tems to fur­ther re­duce weight and en­hance ef­fi­ciency.

The FAA is pre­par­ing for a de­ci­sion to let Boe­ing pro­ceed with plans to har­den the bat­tery against over­heat­ing and fire, and even­tu­ally re­turn the plane to ser­vice. Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Huerta told re­porters Feb. 28 that he ex­pected his staff to present rec­om­men­da­tions as early as this week.

Boe­ing pre­sented the FAA with its pro­posed fix on Feb. 22 in a bid to get the plane air­borne again. The agency hasn’t yet ruled on the Boe­ing rec­om­men­da­tions.

Huerta said the Boe­ing pro­posal con­tains three lay­ers: us­ing sen­sors and cir­cuitry to en­sure that none of the eight in­di­vid­ual cells within a bat­tery over­heats; pre- vent­ing a failed cell from harm­ing ad­ja­cent cells; and pro­tect­ing the plane from dam­age if all the cells burn.

Huerta said Boe­ing’s pro­posal was “very com­pre­hen­sive.” In ad­di­tion to Huerta, Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood, who has said reg­u­la­tors must be “1,000 per­cent sure” the plane is safe, must also agree. The first step, ac­cord­ing to Huerta, will be a sign-off on Boe­ing’s plan to re-cer­tify the plane. Com­mer­cial flights won’t re­sume un­til the bat­ter­ies pass a se­ries of tests in lab­o­ra­to­ries and in flight, he said. The fixes are de­signed to deal with ev­ery pos­si­ble type of bat­tery fail­ure, Huerta said.

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