FAA Gives Boeing Green Light for 787 Battery Testing

ANA Boeing 787

ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner Arriving into San Jose from Tokyo

FAA Gives Boeing Go Ahead for 787 Battery Testing

March 12, 2013 – Louisville, KY (FlyersPulse.com): Today the FAA gave Boeing approval to begin testing an improved lithium-ion battery for the Boeing 787. As to the two incidents, one in Boston, the other in Takamatsu, Japan, which resulted in the aircraft being grounded, both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Japan Transport Safety Board (JSTB) has not identified the ultimate source of the problem.

In a press release issued by Boeing today, the company was vague about the precise nature of the “fix” or “solution” required.

However, Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney, said, “Our top priority is the integrity of our products and the safety of the passengers and crews who fly on them.” McNerney added, “Our team has been working around the clock to understand the issues and develop a solution based on extensive analysis and testing following the events that occurred in January. Today’s approval from the FAA is a critical and welcome milestone toward getting the fleet flying again and continuing to deliver on the promise of the 787.”

In the same media release, Ray Conner, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that the company’s focus has been on developing a permanent resolution.

Conner explains Boeing’s proposal is divided into three layers of “improvements.”

Boeing 787 Battery Fix: Layer One

Conner has indicated the first layer improves the design of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do.

Here at FlyersPulse, we sincerely hope this means they’ve isolated each cell and have the ability to immediately shutdown a cell.

If you go back to our article,The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a Flying Laptop with STEEP Challenges,take a close look at what renowned battery expert Dr. Prashant N. Kumta, professor in the Swanson School’s Departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh had to say.

Dr. Kumta, an expert with lithium-ion batteries stressed, each cell must be controlled individually. Kumta also explained software exists which can monitor each cell, but stressed, “the moment a problem is indicated, the cell must be singled out and disconnected immediately.”

Hopefully, this is along the lines with what Boeing is doing.


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Boeing 787 Battery Fix: Layer Two

Conner said, “Second, we’ve enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components.”

Again, a vague statement, as we’d like to know what these enhanced processes are, but I feel Boeing is headed in the right direction.

Boeing 787 Battery Fix: Layer Three

Conner additionally said, “Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we’ve introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers.”

Ultimately, a containment system is required should the worst case scenario arrive, but if the batteries are fixed properly, we should never have an aircraft require this third layer, in my opinion.

However, given the lithium-ion batteries do generate gases, including oxygen, when they are in thermal runway, where is Boeing proposing these gases go to? Are we going to vent it outside the aircraft or are we going to keep an inert gas of some type in the chamber which can stop the reaction?


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More on Improved 787 Dreamliner Batteries

According to the press release, improvements for the battery do include the addition of new thermal and electrical insulation materials, as well as other changes. Boeing has indicated there will be an enhanced production and testing process which include more stringent screening of battery cells prior to battery assembly. Operationally, they’re looking for improvements which focus on tightening of the system’s voltage range. As written in the release, a key feature of the new enclosure is that it ensures that no fire can develop in the enclosure or in the battery.

On the bright side, Boeing has indicated additional detail of the new design will be provided in the days ahead.

Boeing 787 in Hangar

ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Maintenance Hangar

Boeing 787 Test Flights

The FAA has granted Boeing permission to begin flight testing on two aircraft, line number 86 which will be testing battery solutions and ZA005, which will be conducting engine improvement tests. It appears the FAA has provided flexibility allowing for additional testing as-needed.

According to Boeing, the certification plan calls for a series of tests that show how the improved battery system will perform in normal and abnormal conditions. The tests will be based on FAA standards as well as applicable guidelines published by the Radio Technical Commission on Aeronautics (RTCA). The RTCA guidelines were reportedly not available when the original 787 battery certification plan was developed.

In closing remarks, Conner said, “We have a great deal of confidence in our solution set and the process for certifying it.” Conner closed, “Before 787s return to commercial service, our customers and their passengers want assurance that the improvements being introduced will make this great airplane even better. That’s what this test program will do.”


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