air safety

Feb 9, 2013

Dreamliner 787 delays made official by Boeing

Boeing's belated and low key admissions of some delays to Dreamliner 787 deliveries

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Boeing’s belated and low key admissions of some delays to Dreamliner 787 deliveries in recent hours can be seen more as an indicator of management’s capacity for honesty and transparency than a sudden revelation that the program is in trouble.

Why is the manufacturer the last entity on the planet to recognise the obvious?

The question is all the more relevant considering the apparent haste with which it handled the original data it used to persuade the US Federal Aviation Administration to certify its use of lithium-ion batteries in the airliner as safe.

The validity or authenticity of that data is now in doubt, officially, in statements made by the NTSB, the US air safety investigator, and the FAA, the safety regulator, which is, in plain English, reviewing the quality and integrity of the process by which it originally certified the Dreamliners.

The jets are now grounded, and that batteries will have to be modified or replaced, which means tested and re-certified as safe.

No-one familiar with the intricacies and requirements of such a process expects this to be achieved in a short time, and the responses that came from Boeing to these matters were delusional, and unhelpful to customers with billions of dollars worth of Dreamliners on order for delivery in the next year or so, including Qantas.

The real health check for Boeing management will come when it is made up of people who will deal bluntly and honestly with the situation, and as far as the 787 is concerned, this has yet to happen.

In other reports Airbus is said to be preemptively moving to replace the lithium-ion batteries in its forthcoming A350 series of airliners with ‘different’ battery technology.  This has been anticipated, but not yet confirmed, ever since the 787s were grounded on 17 January.

The A350 has four lithium-ion batteries similar to the two currently onboard 787s. However these jets which are slightly larger than the corresponding models in the  787 line, make less in-flight use of electrical power and rely on bleed air from the engines for cabin pressurisation in a conventional manner.

Boeing sources are reported as conceding that the 787 can be run with less inherently unstable batteries than the lithium-ion design it chose, and hinted at using an alternative type in a longer term ‘fix’ for the current problems, while pushing for an interim ‘fix’ in which the existing batteries are binned in an enclosure in which any fire or thermal runaway event would be entirely contained safely in the belly of the aircraft.



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3 thoughts on “Dreamliner 787 delays made official by Boeing

  1. comet

    Airbus will almost certainly switch to Nickel Cadmium batteries, to avoid uncertainty. Maybe it’ll add about 100kg of weight to the A350, but that’s better than a delay.

    The Cadmium is highly poisonous for the environment, but NiCADs are more suitable for high discharge applications than Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH).

    Meanwhile, the only thing that Boeing has been able to successfully prove is that everything it says turns out to be false, and that it can’t be trusted.

  2. comet

    As I write this post, BOE05 is making its final approach into Everett. It should touch down in few minutes.

  3. Theoddkiwi

    Hi My first post here, I feel the need to make a technical point of difference. Aircraft batteries have two main functions. One is to provide a means of power on the ground for initial power until an alternative is supplied eg ground power, and start the APU which will then take over supply of power. The second and probably most important function is to provide back up power should engine generated power be lost. In the case of the 787 like most aircraft eg 767, A320 and A330 the batteries provide power to the instruments and to start the APU. They are NOT used to operate major systems such as hydraulics, flight controls or air conditioning. That function is provided by the Ram Air Turbine (RAT) which would automatically deploy should engine generated power be lost. RATs generally have an electrical generator and possibly a hydraulic pump. The RAT generated electricity would power the more power heave flight controls, hydraulics etc and even that would be until the APU is started. The concern with the 787 batteries should not so much be with the loss of availability of the battery but more so the potential fire. Replacing the batteries with a different type will be the simplest and easiest long term fix.

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