Update on JAL 787 Battery Fire – Short Circuit

Smoke/Fire Event from JAL 787 Lithium-Ion Battery at Boston

Smoke/Fire Event from JAL 787 Lithium-Ion Battery at Boston

NTSB Continues Investigation into JAL 787 Battery Fire at Boston

February 8, 2013 – (Louisville, KY): On January 7, 2013, a battery fire occurred on a JAL Boeing 787 Dreamliner parked at Boston Logan Airport. A second event involving the Boeing 787 Lithium-Ion battery happened in Japan with All Nippon Airways on January 16, 2013, leading to the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Each Boeing 787 Dreamliner has two Lithium-Ion batteries on-board, one in the rear used to start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) system and one in the forward electronics bay.

Prior to the JAL fire in Boston, the APU was started by battery. The APU is a small engine used to power the aircraft while it’s on the ground. The APU is also responsible for starting the aircraft engines upon pushback. Once the engines are started, the APU is powered down.

Once in-flight, the two lithium-ion batteries only exist as a backup power source if the engines fail.

NTSB Discovers Short Circuit in Battery Cell

The lithium-ion batteries made by GS Yuasa for the Boeing 787 contain eight cells, each with four 4 volts of power, providing a total of 32 volts.

Focus on Cell 6 within Lithium-Ion Battery from JAL 787 in Boston

Cell Six within Lithium-Ion Battery on JAL 787 incident aircraft in Boston

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) isolated the problem to a short circuit within cell number six of the battery. Per evidence uncovered by the NTSB, the short circuit in this particular cell caused the nearby Lithium-Ion cells to engage in thermal runaway.

The examination conducted by the NTSB included pulling information from the flight data recorder. The data recorder indicated a drop in voltage from 32 volts to 28 volts at the onset of the incident. A close-up examination of cell number six indicates multiple signs of short circuiting which propagated thermal runaway to nearby cells. Forensic science from the battery components indicates temperatures inside the battery case exceeded 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

In January, I interviewed Peter Cohan, an Electrical Engineer and Management Consulting Expert, for a January 31st article which took anin-depth look into problems with the Boeing 787 battery system.

Cohan, who wrote a book about Boeing, You Can’t Order Change, was critical of the Boeing 787 battery design and layout. Cohan said, “Afterall, lithium-ion batteries by their nature are prone to heating up fast.” With the design, Cohan has serious concerns about the eight cells stacked together without space or vents combined with the lack of temperature sensors on each cell and the lack of a cooling system.

Inside JAL 787 Battery from Boston

Inside the JAL 787 Battery from Boston Incident

CT Scan of JAL 787 Battery shows Mechanical Damage

CT Scan of Battery shows Mechanical Damage on Left Side

As you can see, most of the damage is isolated on the left side of the battery with cell six receiving the brunt of the damage.

The second image is of a CT-Scan of the battery. The CT-Scan indicates mechanical damage of the battery cells. Upon close examination, cells 5, 6, 7, and 8, received most of the damage with the cells significantly expanded.

Why did the Battery Cell Short Circuit?

Chairman Hersman of the NTSB said the agency is looking into causes which may have initiated the short circuit. Causes being looked into include battery charging, battery design and construction, as well as manufacturing defects.




Future steps include validating the methods the FAA used for certification as well as conducting tests with replacement batteries.

In the meantime, Boeing has released a statement indicating they welcome the progress reported by the NTSB in the 787 investigation, including the fact the NTSB identified the origin of the event having been within the battery. In the statement, Boeing said, “The company remains committed to working with the NTSB, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our customers to maintain the high level of safety the traveling public expects and that the air transport system has delivered.”

Additionally, Boeing has finally admitted they will not be able to make upcoming 787 Dreamliner deliveries on-time, as they had promised nearly a week ago with carriers including Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Aside from carefully timed statements, Boeing has been extremely quiet about the grounding of the Boeing 787. Fortunately, unlike the DC-10, the last commercial aircraft to undergo a long-term grounding, there have been no fatalities with the 787.

Review of Good Battery vs JAL Boston Event Battery

Review of a Good Battery vs JAL Boston Battery

Special Certification for Lithium-Ion

A special risk assessment was conducted by Boeing during the certification process and the aircraft received special waivers to use Lithium-Ion battery technology. The waivers were based on the rare likelihood of failures with nine special considerations.

Boeing said in a press release, “The 787 was certified following a rigorous Boeing test program and an extensive certification program conducted by the FAA. We provided testing and analysis in support of the requirements of the FAA special conditions associated with the use of lithium ion batteries.”

In short, certification indicated the likelihood of an adverse event to occur in less than 1 of every 10 million flight hours. To date we’ve only had 100,000 flight hours with two batteries being involved in a smoke event less than two weeks apart.

While we now know what happened with the short circuit, we don’t know how or why it happened, which the NTSB will continue to investigate. In the meantime, the ANA Flight 692 remains under investigation in Japan with the Japan Transportation Safety Board (JTSB) heading up that investigation.

The findings of the investigation as it continues will be shared with the FAA, Boeing, JTSB, and the French investigative agency, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses. Thales, a French Company, designed the electrical system on the Boeing 787 and outsourced the battery to Japan’s GS Yuasa.

An interim report with factual findings will be released within the next 30 days by the NTSB.

The eventual decision to return the Boeing 787 to flight will be up to the FAA and is not expected to happen anytime in the near future.



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