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air safety

Jan 25, 2013

Dreamliner 787 NTSB call: No sign of end of grounding

The news from the NTSB investigation of battery incidents on two 787s is that Dreamliners will not fly again until the causes are fully understood, and fixed. Which is unlikely to happen quickly.

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The US National Transportation Safety Board has told a media conference call that it is still trying to understand exactly what happened to cause two serious incidents involving Boeing 787 Dreamliners which have lead to the new design airliner being grounded.

These are the main points as made by Deborah Hersman, the chair of the NTSB:

·        Expectation in aviation is never experience a fire on an aircraft.
·        There were two battery events in a short period causing the groundings.
·        Significance of these events can’t be understated.
·        The NTSB has been working since 7 January to understand what happened
·        Lithium ion batteries had thermal runaway, short circuits and a fire.
·        Repeats, emphasises, Still trying to find out why.

Which in total means there is no sign of an end to the grounding, nor what steps or changes will have to be taken in order to get the Dreamliners back in service.

The good and bad of this for 787 users is that the battery problems will become fully understand and they will be overcome, but no one knows when.

The implications of this include making significant changes in delivered and partially built and undelivered 787s, and raise the necessity of further design or system changes in the already much delayed 787-9 version of the Dreamliner which is yet to be assembled, checked out and flown.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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.

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8 comments

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8 thoughts on “Dreamliner 787 NTSB call: No sign of end of grounding

  1. comet

    Quote from Qatar Airways CEO Al Baker, re Boeing 787:

    [quote]“Definitely we will demand compensation. We are not buying airplanes from them to put in a museum.”[/quote]

    The compensation costs must be mounting. Boeing was unable to predict or foresee how the 787’s radical electrical system (based on large lithium ion batteries) would perform in the real world. Boeing got it very wrong.

    Even after the battery issue is resolved, I believe more unforeseen events will occur with the 787’s plastic composite airframe.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz

    From what I have heard the batteries are only the size of a ordinary car battery. Is there a chance of temporarily replacing them with current technology airline batteries. Even if they are 5 times as big in the context of the size of the 787 its not a significant problem

  3. Achmad Osman

    The Li-Ion issue is pertinent to all modern jets. The A380 has them and the A350 will also have them. The A380 has been operation for 5 years now with Li-ion without any mishap. My speculation is that the suppliers delivered a bad batch of charging controllers, which was missed by Quality Control in the supply chain.
    What is more at issue for me as an engineer is the report of a cracked windscreen – that is more worrying as it could potentially be caused by a structural problem. If this is the case, the grounding of the B787 will last a long time.

  4. fractious

    @ comet
    “Quote from Qatar Airways CEO Al Baker, re Boeing 787:

    “Definitely we will demand compensation. We are not buying airplanes from them to put in a museum.””

    If I was ANA or JAL I think I’d be making similar noises.

  5. dickbev

    Maybe all manufacturers will receive a lesson from this radical airplane when the problems are resolved .Just as they all learned and benefited From the De-Havilland Comet’s disasters and problems. Which also were solved in the end even if it meant a financial disaster for the Company.

    Dick of PERTH.

  6. Kapo

    fractious said

    “If I was ANA or JAL I think I’d be making similar noises.”

    You’ll find that they are, just in a more understated Japanese manner. Not everyone is a media tart like Al Baker though I’m sure all the customers share his sentiments. More towards the QR side of the airline- manufacturer relationship scale, the Indian government also have their hand out on behalf of their basket case airline.

    The NTSB must be commended in not bowing to what must be incredible pressure from many vested interests such as the manufacturer and elemets within goverment(FAA). NTSB is sending an important message that the plane will not be back in the air until the cause is understood, that it will take as long as it needs may not please shareholders, but it certainly will reassure air travellers.

  7. Harry

    Ghost, swapping battery types would likely require new systems design as well as some minor structural changes, and would also require recertification. As such, not a minor change.

    Achmed, from what Ben has said here earlier, windscreen cracks are a relatively minor issue: the Dreamliner (as with most, if not all, commercial jets) has multi-layered windscreens; windscreen cracks happen all the time for in-service planes; and no systemic issue was identified.

  8. johnny7713

    “The NTSB must be commended in not bowing to what must be incredible pressure from many vested interests such as the manufacturer and elemets within goverment(FAA). NTSB is sending an important message that the plane will not be back in the air until the cause is understood, that it will take as long as it needs may not please shareholders, but it certainly will reassure air travellers.”

    The NTSB has no authority to ground planes, it can only issue recommendations, which it is then up to the relevant regulatory authorities (i.e. FAA, EASA, CASA, etc, or in extreme cases, legislative bodies) to implement (or ignore, as the case may be).

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