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Jan 28, 2013

Dreamliner 787 crisis: NTSB clears an early suspect

This could be read as progress. It can also be read as confirmation that nailing the cause of at least one of two 787 battery related incidents that lead to Dreamliners being grounded is proving elusive, which isn't good news.

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A Bloomberg sourced report has cleared one of the early suspects, the battery charger, of being at fault in the fire that broke out in a Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at Boston’s Logan airport on 7 January.

This could be read as progress. It can also be read as confirmation that nailing the cause of at least one of two 787 battery related incidents that lead to Dreamliners being grounded is proving elusive, which isn’t good news.

It also keeps in the media spotlight concerns about how the FAA came to certify the use of heavy duty high output lithium ion batteries in the 787s in the face of significant concerns expressed by engineers with a working knowledge of the risks and issues associated with them.

An NTSB-led team also examined circuit boards used to monitor the battery in the in-flight incident in Japan, the board said. The circuit boards were damaged in the incident, “which limited the information that could be obtained from tests,” the board said. ”

The board said it had sent two additional investigators to Seattle, where it was working with the Federal Aviation Administration to review work at Boeing. One investigator will work with a group reviewing Boeing’s efforts to solve the problems, and the other will work on how the lithium-ion batteries were approved by the FAA.

The RTCA, a group that advises the FAA on some technical issues, in 2008 recommended tougher testing standards for lithium-ion batteries on aircraft to ensure they wouldn’t burn or explode even if control circuitry failed, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night. The FAA decided such testing wasn’t necessary, and it’s not clear whether it would have prevented the two 787 incidents, the Journal reported.

Here, the issues are more parochial. What will Qantas do? Does it need to do anything? Or,  is the delivery of Dreamliners anywhere near to being as immediately important as sorting out individual AOCs for Qantas domestic and international, or persuading the public that flying Emirates is really flying Qantas?

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