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air safety

Feb 7, 2013

Dreamliner: NTSB concern over variation in Boeing's battery data and what it has found

The credibility of Boeing's pre-certification data on the 787 batteries is under fire, even as it proposes a temporary fix

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There is a credible report just published in the US which says that the pre-certification data about the controversial lithium-ion batteries in the Dreamliner 787 on which the FAA concluded they were acceptable is significantly different from the results of tests on the same batteries now performed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The report’s veracity is supported by Boeing’s actions in making a somewhat conditional rebuttal of its content. It is a very strange response from Boeing, which seems to say that it continues to ‘learn’ about the batteries, rather than addressing the crux of the story, which is that there is a material difference between what Boeing told the FAA prior to certification, and what the safety investigator has found after certification.

This report coincides with a Wall Street Journal  story urging a temporary fix be approved pending the identification and remediation of the causes of the battery incidents that lead to the Dreamliner grounding on 17 January.

The US ABC report says:

The pre-certification test results were found to be different than what happened during NTSB investigation, the source said. The agency, charged with investigating civil aviation accidents in the U.S., is expected to question whether the Boeing tests certified by the FAA were “robust enough.”

This morning, the chairwoman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, told reporters at a breakfast briefing that the initial investigation into the batteries found “multiple cells where we saw uncontrolled chemical chain reaction,” including short circuiting and thermal runaway, “and those features are not what we would have expected to see in a brand new battery, in a brand new airplane.

“We’re evaluating assessments that were made, whether or not those assessments were accurate, whether they were complied with and whether more needs to be done,” Hersman said. “We want to make sure the design is robust, that the oversight, the manufacturing process, that those are all adequate — and so that will be a part of our continuing investigation to determine the failure modes, what may have caused it and what can mitigate against that in the future.”

As reported earlier today, American media is putting the searchlight on the adequacy of the certification process that was applied to the Dreamliner, with crucial aspects of this being done by Boeing, for the FAA, not by the FAA.

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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3 comments

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3 thoughts on “Dreamliner: NTSB concern over variation in Boeing’s battery data and what it has found

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    The part that had me intrigued, was the “breakfast briefing” for reporters by the NTSB. In this part of the world, that would usually mean no one turned up.

    Another issue that seems unusual is that none of these battery problems turned in Boeings flying of the plane. Or did they?

  2. Ben Sandilands

    America, land of the ‘power breakfast.’

  3. comet

    The first Dreamliner flight, post grounding, will occur within the next 24 hours. It will fly from Fort Worth Texas, where it was taken for painting (in China Southern livery) to Boeing field at Everett.

    No doubt, the world’s media will have their news cameras on the perimeter fence for the event. It’ll be interesting if Boeing conducts the test flight using China Southern livery, or if they quickly paint it white and make it a clean skin.

    The voice-over narration for those news stories will no doubt be saying, “is it safe?”, “is it not safe?” I can’t imagine China Southern will want to be associated with such coverage.

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