Burned 787 battery underlines seriousness of incident
Whatever the US FAA was thinking when it became a party to a Boeing promotional stunt over the 787 Dreamliner fire at Boston recently has been given a sobering sequel by an NTSB update into the incident
Just in case you thought the all singing and dancing act put on by the FAA and Boeing when they announced a review into the 787 program after the 7 January ground fire in a Japan Airlines Dreamliner was cause to relax America’s independent safety investigator, the NTSB has come out with the ugly photos.
The image below is of a 24 kilogram 42 cms by 30 cms battery that took a fire unit trained to deal with 787 fires 40 minutes to extinguish when it caught fire shortly after a Japan Airlines flight from Narita arrived at Boston’s Logan airport.
The fire and other electrical and mechanical incidents reported in 787s in recent days lead to the Federal Aviation Administration announcing a detailed review of the program including the certification processes which it had followed before passing the 787 fit for passenger service.
However that announcement was turned into something of an embarrassment for the regulator and Boeing, at least according to US media reports, by being made into a testimonial by all present as to how outstandingly safe the 787 is.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which is the safety investigator, has not lent its public credibility to such a stunt, instead issuing the photo as part of a second update into its inquiry into the incident.
WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board today released a second update on its investigation into the Jan. 7 fire aboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Logan International Airport in Boston.
The lithium-ion battery that powered the auxiliary power unit on the airplane was removed and transported back to the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington on Jan. 10. The battery is currently being examined by NTSB investigators, who plan to disassemble it this week.
In advance of that work, under the direction of the NTSB, radiographic examinations of the incident battery and an exemplar battery were conducted this past weekend at an independent test facility. The digital radiographs and computed tomography scans generated from this examination allowed the team to document the internal condition of the battery prior to disassembling it.
In addition, investigators took possession of burned wire bundles, the APU battery charger, and several memory modules. The maintenance and APU controller memory modules will be downloaded to obtain any available data. Investigators also documented the entire aft electronics bay including the APU battery and the nearby affected structure where components and wire bundles were located. The airplane was released back to Japan Airlines on Jan. 10.
The airplane’s two combined flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder units were transported to NTSB headquarters and have been successfully downloaded. The information is currently being analyzed by the investigative team.
The airport emergency response group documented the airport rescue and firefighting efforts to extinguish the fire, which included interviews with first responders. Fire and rescue personnel were able to contain the fire using a clean agent (Halotron), however, they reported experiencing difficulty accessing the battery for removal during extinguishing efforts. All fire and rescue personnel responding to the incident had previously received aircraft familiarization training on the Boeing 787. In accordance with international investigative treaties, the Japan Transport Safety Board and French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de l’aviation civile have appointed accredited representatives to the investigation. The NTSB-led investigative team is comprised of subject matter groups in the areas of airplane systems, fire, airport emergency response, and data recorders and includes experts from the Federal Aviation Administration, The Boeing Company, US Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Carderock Division, Japan Airlines (aircraft operator), GS Yuasa (battery manufacturer), and Thales Avionics Electrical Systems (APU battery/charger system).
In some ways the NTSB relationship to the FAA resembles the way the ATSB used to be a fiercely independent body in relation to CASA until it suited government to neuter it with a pact under which it can no longer embarrass our Civil Aviation Safety Authority or confront Ministers with unpalatable realities about the misdeeds of vested interests in air services in Australia.
(An unfinished Senate committee inquiry into the final report the ATSB released into the Pel-Air ditching at Norfolk Island in 2009 has taken evidence as to how CASA persuaded the ATSB to completely change its mind about the safety issues in the crash, and to state that a suppressed CASA audit that found Pel-Air in serious breach of numerous safety obligations relevant to the incident had no bearing on the accident. Stay tuned.)
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.