back to article FAA grounds Boeing's 787 after battery fires on plastic planes

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners over fears that its lithium-ion batteries are unsafe, after they were linked to two aircraft fires in the space of ten days. "The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes …

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  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Glad I'm flying a Dreamliner(tm) instead

    They were so safely designed that they were granted a new extended 330minute ETOPS on launch without any in-service qualifying period.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Glad I'm flying a Dreamliner(tm) instead

      Care to lay odds on how long before it's reduced given the current events?

    2. LarsG
      Meh

      Never

      Fly in an aircraft that has a 100% safety record, never fly with an airline that has a 100% safety record. Never fly in a new aircraft type that has never crashed.

      Statistically it's only a matter of time, whereas the others that have crashed failed etc have had time to put the flaws and systems right and are statistically less likely to fail.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Never

        I think what you are saying is complete nonsense.

        Number of crashes or lack thereof is totally meaningless unless you take into consideration types of failures, causes of accidents, number of flight hours and cycles accumulated per fleet and per airframe between the accidents, type of engines, avionics and other equipment each airframe carried.

        According to your logic it is safer to fly on some Nigerian local carrier than on the BA because the Nigerian airline would have had many more accidents.

      2. MrXavia

        Re: Never @LarsG

        That is an odd application of statistics....

        Surely an airline that has a 100% safety record means their doing things right...

        Would I trust an airline that had a crash caused by negligence? Not a chance..

        No aircraft is perfect, they will all have issues, I choose an airline that hires good pilots & good engineers...

      3. Schultz

        Re: Never Fly in an aircraft that has a 100% safety record

        Go back to statistics 1-01, don't stop at gut-feeling square or speculation corner.

      4. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Never

        @LarsG

        So the Boeing will kill less people than Airbus will kill more.

        MURDERERS!

      5. clanger9
        Stop

        Re: Never

        You have a very odd understanding of statistics.

      6. Jonathan Richards 1

        Re: Never

        > statistically less likely to fail

        [citation needed]

      7. Colin Millar
        FAIL

        Re: Never

        You do know that the fabric of spacetime isn't made of statistics?

        "Statistically it's only a matter of time"is a meaningless concept

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If

      If it was just about the odd battery the fleet would not have been grounded. There's more to it than you know.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: If

        So you don't think that a component with a significant risk of causing an in-flight fire is sufficient reason to ground the fleet? Please share some of your greater knowledge with us. Does it involve Area 51?

    4. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Pretty pictures

      "no large commercial airliner has even landed intact on open ocean (despite what the pretty picture in the kiss-your-arse-goodbye folder shows)"

      The safety cards should show realistic pictures of people screaming and broken aircraft bits on fire on , as in Fight Club :)

    5. Philip Lewis
      Coat

      Re: Glad I'm flying a Dreamliner(tm) instead

      ETOPS - translation. Engines Turning Or Passengers Swim

  2. nuked
    Gimp

    These problems are nothing compared to what the Airbus double-decker went through to start with. The Dreamliner's never-before-seen range is gonna change how the global routes are put together, and that's going to happen regardless of these problems.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      I'm sorry, I missed the bit where the Airbus was grounded by all the world's authorities. Could you fill me in on that episode?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @nuked

      Hard to accept that airplanes are built successfully outside the USA too, I suppose.

      New models tend to have problems in the beginning. The Dreamliner has certainly had its share

    3. Moeluk

      also if you genuinely think it's going to change the global routes..it's not, it's just going to save the airlines bills on aviation fuel.

    4. Jonathan Richards 1

      Global routes

      > The Dreamliner's never-before-seen range is [going to] change how the global routes are put together

      I don't believe that the absolute aircraft range is the limiting factor in how global routes are put together. There's the passengers' tolerance for being cooped up in a flying tube for more than 11 or 12 hours at a stretch, there's the issue of feeding, watering, entertaining and mucking out the said passengers, and staff/aircrew matters. If you're going to have very long flight times, your passenger density would have to be reduced to mitigate any or all of those.

      Then there's demand. Even if one could fly from London Heathrow to Auckland directly, there might not be sufficient demand for that service, whereas stopping en route, as NZ002 does at Los Angeles, means that you can exploit the demand for LHR-LAX and LAX-AKL with the same aircraft.

  3. Tom 260
    Flame

    Did Boeing outsource their batteries to Sony by any chance?

    Flames, cos well...

    1. Brian Morrison
      Thumb Down

      No, the battery supplier for the 787 is...

      ...good old Yuasa, you know the people that make lead-acid gel cells and the like.

      I'm not certain of the reason for the lithium ion batteries other than saving of weight and a bit of volume. The ones causing problems are part of the APU start system but I'm uncertain about how much current they have to supply in flight, I would expect that to come from the engine generators with maybe some ability in the batteries to smooth out heavy current blips such as when the flaps are lowered.

      Experience shows that an on board fire of this type that can't be contained needs the aircraft to be on the ground within 10 minutes for the fire to be survivable. Smoke masks for the pilots are only of so much use, the UPS 747 freighter that went down in Dubai crashed because the crew could not see their instruments, radios or indeed anything.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Devil

        Re: No, the battery supplier for the 787 is...

        They should be able to open the cabin windows..... (after depressurising a heap)

        Well maybe not, but one would think that this ought to be the case....

        Nothing like flying with the cock pit, filled with FRESH AIR, instead of SMOKE.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They'll look for a simple solution

        The updated model 787 will have a nice shiny red "Battery Eject" button on the dash.

        1. Blofeld's Cat
          Mushroom

          Re: They'll look for a simple solution

          "The updated model 787 will have a nice shiny red "Battery Eject" button on the dash."

          Just above a label added by the PR Department:

          "Do not press this button if flying over: Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, London, Coventry..."

      3. Tom 260

        Re: No, the battery supplier for the 787 is...

        I think the weight saving is the key factor, given the concentration on building as much of the plane out of composites as possible.

        As for the APU, it has to be capable of taking over the plane's electrical systems within a few seconds of engine shutdown/failure, so I would imagine there's a certain amount of low level power from the batteries for that eventuality - the batteries might also be getting charged in-flight to compensate for that and recharge the usage of the on-ground startup of the APU.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    The FAA actual statement

    "Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe."

    There is a range of FAA language with subtle meanings, but "MUST DEMONSTRATE ... SAFE" is big-stick stuff

    Basically it means rip them out if you want a hope of the plane flying this year.

  5. Wanda Lust

    Aircraft + fire

    Just about the worst scenario you can have.

    Engines throwing blades, yea, aircraft are designed to cope with that. The chickens attest to that & the more engines the better.

    Fire... especially anywhere in the fuselage. Bad, bad, bad.

    Boeing has messed up here, bad. I spent some around Boeing when they kicked off the triple 7 program & I was highly impressed at what I saw.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Aircraft + fire

      >Boeing ... kicked off the triple 7 program & I was highly impressed at what I saw.

      With their plan to outsource not only manufacture but design of each part to the lowest bidder, and then have each of those suppliers contract it out to their lowest bidder and so on with no oversight?

      I have to buy fscking USB cables for $$$ from an ISO certified supplier and have a formal process of validating and inspecting that supplier and yet the design of bits of 787 get outsourced so far down the tree that Boeing have to formally admit they have no idea who DESIGNED some parts.

    2. Chris 244
      Flame

      Re: Aircraft + fire just about the worst

      Spacecraft + fire the worst, then?

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Aircraft + fire just about the worst

        Anything I am currently inside + Fire = Worst

        [Everything / Everyone else is just a news story]

      2. Chemist

        Re: Aircraft + fire just about the worst

        "Spacecraft + fire the worst, then?"

        Aircraft tend to have a LOT more people on board

      3. h3

        Re: Aircraft + fire just about the worst

        Things are different when you are mostly in a vaccum.

  6. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    To date, no large commercial airliner has even landed intact on open ocean (despite what the pretty picture in the kiss-your-arse-goodbye folder shows)

    What a load of old rubbish! I saw a documentary, literally years ago, which showed a plane that survived this. It was even stuck underwater for hours, and all the passengers were still rescued.

    What plane was it again? Oh yes, I remember. It was one of those atomic powered Fireflashes. I guess it would have been a chap called Gordon Tracey who did the underwater cleverness to save the day...

  7. Esskay
    Joke

    Waiting...

    To see if someone can manage to blame Sony for this one too...

    Seriously though, it's a bit of a catch-22 - you need batteries for electronics, but the more batteries, the increased risk of one of something going wrong/melting down/exploding and destroying the electronics - which, because everything relies on electronics, makes flying the plane difficult/impossible, which prompts the need for more failsafes/backups/redundancies, which requires more electronics, which requires more batteries...

    Does anyone know (I'm sure many here do) if they're still required to have analog instrument backups in place? or have they been phased out completely?

    1. Andre Carneiro

      Re: Waiting...

      No, Standby Instruments can be electronic provided they're supplied by a different bus bar and have their own power backup systems.

  8. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    You do wonder....

    ...why they used Li-ion batteries, which are known in model flying circles amongst other places for their flamability, and not LiFePO4, which do not have this problem. LiFe phosphate batteries have a track record of safe use in aircraft.

    The Antares 20E uses them and has done for several years.

    http://www.lange-flugzeugbau.de/htm/english/products/antares_20e/antares_20E.html

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: You do wonder....

      From what I've read elsewhere, basically power to weight ratio. The Cobalt-Oxide based Li batteries are best for that, but have the unfortunate heat problem that's now manifesting itself. As noted above, it's the same technology used in cellphone & laptop batteries (and the Tesla Roadster), unfortunately with similar meltdown issues.

      The other option may have been the Manganese based batteries more commonly used in other electric cars (the Volt et al), but whilst they don't overheat as easily they also don't supply as much juice for their weight. And it would be similar with the LiFePO4 ones - the whole point is weight-saving (along with the carbon fibre/plastic usage in the similar vein).

      The Dreamliner idea of using electrics rather than tapping off some of the engine hot gas to support the sub-systems is an interesting one (for increasing fuel efficiency), but one can't help thinking that the con's of that idea may not have been considered quite as far as the pro's were...

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: You do wonder....

        I'd still imagine a known fire risk outweighs a few kilos.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. stizzleswick
    FAIL

    What I am really wondering about...

    is why Boeing are installing a technology that has been banned from being transported on airplanes by many airlines (with certain exceptions granted, like individual batteries installed in devices), and by several countries outright: Li-Ion batteries using LiCo. Several bans on transporting such devices had been in effect long before the 787 entered service.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: What I am really wondering about...

      It's not the technology that being banned wholesale on aircraft. It's Li chemistry batteries that haven't been certified for use on aircraft that are disallowed for air transport.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What I am really wondering about...

        " It's Li chemistry batteries that haven't been certified for use on aircraft that are disallowed for air transport."

        And the Boeing ones are certified?

  11. Magani
    WTF?

    Where there's smoke... etc

    Let's see if I got this right:-

    Sending Li-Ion batteries as freight in the hold (where there's an active suppressant system) is banned or at least highly regulated, but having them performing under load in the electronics bay (where there's only a smoke detector) is OK.

    There has been a great deal of news (and a couple of crashes) laid at the feet of Li-Ion batteries, yet Mr Boeing (and presumably the certification bods at the FAA) have seen that this is a good idea.

    So that's a power/fire source that has a track record of doing firework's imitations providing power in an aircraft that's partially made of composite materials whose flammability is still a matter of concern/debate.

    What was the saying about putting a host of new technologies all together in the one place?

    I really hope that Boeing / NTSC / FAA / etc can get their act together and sort this out before we have a major incident/accident with loss of life.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Where there's smoke... etc

      "I really hope that Boeing / NTSC / FAA / etc can get their act together and sort this out before we have a major incident/accident with loss of life."

      Not to worry, Aribus is planning to use Li-Ion on A350 as well.

  12. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Not for flight

    The battery pack that failed was used to start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APU provides power to the plane when the engines are not running, ie: on the ground. When the engines are running, there is plenty of power to operate the aircraft and supply passengers with plug in points. The failure of this pack was while the plane was on the ground and all of the passengers had been off the plane for some time. The APU is not normally used while the plane is in flight unless the plane loses all of it's engines (or at least all of the engines with alternators to provide electricity). The article is poorly written and suggests to the reader that the battery pack might burst into flames while the plane is flying. That's not very likely. Improperly charging, over-discharging or puncturing the packs can lead to fires. It is certain that there would be a sophisticated battery management circuit to keep track of charge and discharge rates. Perhaps there needs to be another layer of protection and some more "margin" in the design. It's very surprising that there wasn't a fire extinguisher system covering the battery pack give the history of Li chemistry battery fires.

    I'm sure that Boeing (Boing) specified Li batteries to shave some weight off. They may be questioning that decision now, but it is a certainty that the battery pack had been extensively tested to be certified for use on an aircraft. Anything of an electronic nature must be certified if it's to go on an aircraft and it's an time intensive, rigorous and expensive process.

    I've used Li batteries for rocket avionics systems that I have designed and built with a decent track record. One certainly must know how handle the beasties or they will bite. I hope that Boeing and/or the FAA will release their findings on a probable cause for the failure. I'm interested from a professional stand point. I would not be worried flying on a 787.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Not for flight

      >battery pack might burst into flames while the plane is flying

      Unused, sealed, disconnected, in their shipping boxes Li batteries have caught fire and destroyed aircraft

      it's not unreasonable that one connected to a complex set of aircraft systems, even if nominally not in use , could catch fire

      >Anything of an electronic nature must be certified if it's to go on an aircraft

      Certified yes, - tested, well err .......

      A lot of avition safety comes from the methodology of; we have always done it like this and it worked. That is coupled with a lot of certification to show that you are doing it exactly like you have always done it, and that nobody in the supply chain has changed anything without telling you. That's why an aircraft coffee machine costs $5000.

      The 787, like a lot of modern planes and most modern military kit, uses a lot of COTS systems with the assumption that if they have been used for years in an office they are well known. This hasn't always proved the case when they are put in more challenging applications

      The problem here is that the system design was outsourced by Boeing (who know lots about planes) to Thales (who know about electronics) to Yusa (who know about batteries) to god-knows-who subcontractor

      And as long as everybody filled in the paperwork it was assumed this was as good as Boeing designing it themselves.

    2. PhilBuk

      Re: Not for flight

      Most of your post post seems to be guesswork - viz.:

      "That's not very likely."

      "It is certain that there would be a sophisticated battery management circuit to keep track of charge and discharge rates."

      "but it is a certainty that the battery pack had been extensively tested"

      You don't know, do you?

      Phil.

    3. Moeluk
      Holmes

      Re: Not for flight

      Not to be rude..but if you read the *actual* news...it states

      "The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued the order after a 787 operated by Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) made an emergency landing outside Tokyo on Wednesday. The plane landed early after cockpit controls warned of battery error and indicated smoke."

      So yeah, the battery did exactly what you said it couldn't do..and malfunctioned IN FLIGHT.

    4. GettinSadda
      Mushroom

      Re: Not for flight

      "The article is poorly written and suggests to the reader that the battery pack might burst into flames while the plane is flying. That's not very likely."

      Maybe you should watch this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21038307

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Not for flight

        I assume the APU batteries are recharged at some point, possibly during flight. Maybe a failure in the charging/sensor system?

        "The electronics compartment just has a smoke detector"

        That is the worrying part given how much these beasts rely on electronics. Surely a fire suppression system in the critical bays is essential?

      2. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Not for flight

        "The article is poorly written and suggests to the reader that the battery pack might burst into flames while the plane is flying. That's not very likely."

        perhaps you should watch something like this too.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fG_UuPmLO1c

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not for flight

      MachDiamond, thank you for clarifying that mystifying remark in the article about the APU. To me it sounds like the author thinks the battery itself is the APU (which of course is not the case: an APU is a small jet engine used as an electrical generator while on the ground, and away from the gates and/or where external supply systems are not available).

      And to those smartarses who have downvoted this chap's comment... it might just help you to know that I, as another aviation professional, have understood exactly what he meant and he's right on the money. In more pedestrian terms, he's saying: "People who have designed this, which by the way is what they do for a living, actually know what they're doing. They may sometimes get it wrong, but not in any of the simplistic ways that ring so obvious to you and cause you to blurt out Youtubean comments. This article did not do a good job of explaining any of that, due to the complexity of the subject and the author's lack of sufficient knowledge in this domain [which is excusable, if I may add]".

      I hope this helps.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Re: Not for flight

        So you are now posting AC, Mr $hill ?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not for flight

          "So you are now posting AC, Mr $hill ?"

          Not sure if this refers to the post just above, which I wrote. All my posts in this site are as AC.

      2. Vic

        Re: Not for flight

        I, as another aviation professional, have understood exactly what he meant and he's right on the money.

        Except that he isn't. He stated :

        suggests to the reader that the battery pack might burst into flames while the plane is flying. That's not very likely

        ...When there is ample evidence of exactly that happening. That's why the aircraft are grounded.

        Vic.

    6. Colin Millar
      Flame

      Re: Not for flight

      "...might burst into flames while the plane is flying. That's not very likely"

      Hmm - "not very likely" is a bit weak - myself I would be looking for words and phrases like "inconceivable", "statistically insignificant probability"

  13. jr424242

    You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

    Granted, it was not open ocean. But. it validates the safety card design, and that's the important thing.

    1. Mike Henderson

      Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

      The real worry is that that is the one and only time ever in history that someone has successfully water-landed a jet aircraft with its engines under the wings.

      And that was on the relative calm of the Hudson River and within about a minute of the first rescue boat, not on the open ocean - with waves even - and hours or days from rescue

    2. Greg J Preece

      Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

      Granted, it was not open ocean. But. it validates the safety card design, and that's the important thing.

      I thought someone might bring this up. The article specifically said "ocean", so this doesn't really count.

      Also, it's not really a validation of the safety card if an ocean crash doesn't happen like this. Oceans have swells, waves, etc that make them almost impossible to pull off a high-speed landing on. Rivers don't really have this issue.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge
        Meh

        Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

        To be fair, I can't think of an occasion where anyone's actually tried. I.e. an accident in which full control of the aircraft was maintained and a water landing in an ocean was attempted.

        All the ones I can think of where an aircraft has ended up in the drink have been of the falling into it rather than landing on it type.

        There was that hijacked african job that sort of made an attempt, but the pilot made a complete horlicks of it and was still banking when he ran out of sky. Coming in so that the first thing that hits the floor is a wing doesn't work well on land either.

        Many military aircraft have ditched into the sea (sometime deliberately so, such as the CAM ship Hurricanes of the North Atlantic convoys) and the crew have subsequently been recovered safely.

        1. valdez

          Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

          The hijackers were fighting with the pilots when the plane crashed. The accusation that the aircrew made a " complete horlicks" is rather unfair.

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

          > I can't think of an occasion where anyone's actually tried. I.e. an accident in which full control of the aircraft was maintained and a water landing in an ocean was attempted.

          Hard to think of a reason why anyone would try it if they still had full control, though, unless they were in a Short's Sunderland or something like it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

            Full control means the control surfaces work as intended. What you may not have is enough thrust to maintain flight (as in if, for example, you missed the sign that said "last fuel stop this side of the Atlantic").

            1. hayseed

              Re: You forget the 2009 Hudson River crash

              Some of the Dolittle raid pilots ditched

  14. Winkypop Silver badge
    Flame

    The fasten seat belts light has been switched on

    Please fasten your belt low and tight, return your tray to the upright position, turn off any electronic devices and extinguish all batteries.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An eco-friendly solution

    The solution is simple. Remove the batteries and install treadmills in cattle class so that he swine can earn their cheap flights by generating some electricity.

    For an additional fee of, say, £200, business class passengers can crack the whip down in cattle class for 15 minutes, encouraging the worker classes to be more productive and vent a little steam over their disease-ridden degenerated ramblings about corporate tax avoidance and bonuses.

    It's a win-win for all.

    1. frank ly

      Re: An eco-friendly solution

      "...cattle class so that (t)he swine ..."

      Ad hoc mixed metaphors are not certified for use in flight.

    2. Greg J Preece

      Re: An eco-friendly solution

      I said I was going to do this and I meant it.

      This is where you belong

    3. Blofeld's Cat
      Coat

      Re: An eco-friendly solution

      "For an additional fee of, say, £200, business class passengers can crack the whip down in cattle class for 15 minutes"

      Hear that scratching noise? it's Michael O'Leary making notes.

      It's the one still going round the luggage carousel at RAF Stansted Mountfitchet London Stansted Airport.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. An eco friendly solution

    You sir, owe me a new keyboard!!

    Also, why the hell are they even using Li-Ion batteries, when phosphates are actually slightly cheaper and *proven* non flammable.

    Even NASA refuses to use Li-ion cells on satellites, preferring to use good old reliable Ni-H2 or Ni-MH as they have cycle life in the tens of thousands if well looked after.

    Also they are very tolerant of overcharging/overdischarge as long as the cells can't reverse.

    1. JeffyPooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Re. An eco friendly solution

      Ni-MH reliable?

      Granted, better than NiCd, but Li-ion has been a big improvement.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LiFeP04

    would have been a safer choice at a minor loss of capacity...

    Amazed they never thought of this....

    Company that builds aircraft to ferry millions of bods accross the planet but has no idea about safe(r) battery technology....

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Top Fuel Dragster

    Why not have failsafe measures.....

    Maybe they could put in some "vent with flame" exhaust tubes for the Li-Ion batts, I suggest short chromed ones, angled upwards and rearwards at a jaunty angle? ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Top Fuel Dragster

      and maybe some marshmallows and sticks

  19. MrXavia

    "teething problems, like cracked windows or leaking fuel"

    Teething problems? I would call cracked windows on a pressurised aircraft a damn major problem! same goes for fuel... surely these issues should have been found during the extensive trials before they started delivering?

    I will be avoiding Dreamliners on all future flights.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Next time you're taxiing towards the runway on a fully-laden aircraft (non-Dreamliner of course, since you will be avoiding them), you may want to take a close look at the fuel vents, see how much it can spill out of it (especially during turns as the fuel is sloshing around). It is pretty impressive but perfectly normal.

  20. Fihart

    Fake batteries ?

    Almost every Li-On battery for my phone that I see for sale has a Nokia logo on it but is, suspiciously, a tenth of the price that Nokia's retailers charge.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am no engineer but can they not design the batteries to be encased in a vacuum so even if they fail they have no chance of catching fire?

    1. stizzleswick
      Boffin

      The problem in this case...

      ...would be that the contents of the Li-Ion batteries used is rather aggressive and quite capable of doing serious damage both thermal and chemical without the presence of atmospheric oxygen. A vacuum might actually be counter-productive; some of the documented failures of Li-Ion batteries that had been transported aboard airplanes had at least in part been due to reduced pressure in the cargo compartment they were in.

      I sort of wish Boeing luck with this, but from the viewpoint of a chemical engineer (diploma is framed and hanging above my toilet cistern, in case I run out of paper), I guess they'll have to bite the bullet and go for different battery technology (i.e., heavier batteries, reducing the gas mileage so to speak) less prone to spontaneous combustion.

      1. JeffyPooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: The problem in this case...

        Maybe they could have a suppressive agent wrapped around the battery pack. Something that would be the chemical equivalent of dumping boron into a nuclear reactor. If the battery gets too hot and melts, it melts into the carefully selected agent that calms it all down. Hopefully they don't require the battery to restart at that point. Maybe there should be a primary cell backup.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Correct, you're no engineer

      Even if that were possible (it isn't), it wouldn't extinguish the fire.

      LiCo battery fires are the components of the battery burning each other - it's a sealed unit, nothing actually gets in until the the cell has already "vented with flame".

      I've also seen this with NiCad batteries - less dramatic, those just smoked rather than actual visible flames.

      Also, this is most likely to occur when the batteries are charging - thus either in flight (charging from engines) or connected to ground power (thus empty on stand)

      One of those is rather serious(!)

      I am also surprised at the choice of chemistry - manganese or iron lithium batteries are only slightly less capacious and are considerably safer than the LiCo.

      Given the wording of the FAA request, that may be what happens.

    3. YetAnotherPasswordToRemeber

      Doesn't matter with some Lithium packs, oxygen is created by the chemicals that make up the pack so they'll still burn, even in a vacuum.

      LiPo batteries for example will still burn underwater, so there's no way of putting them out, you just have to let them burn themselves out.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

    "one can't help thinking that the con's of this idea may not have been considered quite as far as the pro's were.."

    The cons were almost certainly considered, at least by the relevant engineers. But the strategy had been decided by the PHBs.

    Questions, let alone dissent, are not welcome at that stage, and have a tendency to put an engineer's income continuity plan at risk

    Actually given the amount of subcontracting in the 787 it's not even obvious that there were any "relevant engineers" inside Boeing to consider the cons in this case. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

    The regulatory authorities are not engineering experts, my experience is that all they care about in recent years is that there is a documented engineering process and that there is evidence the process was followed (ISO9000 style?). The end product can be carp (so long as no one notices) but if the process is shown to be followed it gets regulatory approval. There are even ways and means of getting stuff flying that hasn't been tested, so long as The Process has been followed (MachDiamond please note). What happens when something goes wrong? What happens is what we see here.

    The UK rail industry has seen what happens to safety when you subcontract everything to the lowest bidder.

    Is it Ford Pinto time for the 787?

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

      a quick search at ANSI shows "ISO ICS 49 AIRCRAFT AND SPACE VEHICLE ENGINEERING" as a category listing 530 standards.

      I suspect many standards have content that is aligned with ISO9001 but my expertise is only in ISO17025 (requirements for technical competence in testing and calibration) which is a standard that requires one to demonstrate that everything you do is not only according to the manual but has sound technical reasoning underlying it.

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

        should have added that a lab is "Accreditated" to ISO 17025 not "certified"

        the difference appears to lie in "formal, third party recognition of competence to perform specific tasks"

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

        AC 10:08 again here, 2nd attempt (irritating typos in deleted version).

        Calibration is about as objective and quantifiable as you can get.

        On the other hand, what objective and quantifiable certifications and quality measures are there for software? Or for complex IC (ASIC) design ? Please don't suggest DO178 or DO254; in reality these days they're about as useful as ISO9000 (they're about *process* not *product*).

        In between come things like modern technologies for composite (fibre) structures, unproven (well, proven high-risk) battery technologies, and so on.

        It'd be nice if everything involved in certifying a plane was as objective (and demonstrably so) as calibration.

        It isn't.

        Interesting times ahead.

        In-vehicle software (cars etc) has similar challenges.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

      This link is to an Australian aviation reporter who is not known for pulling punches.

      http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2013/01/19/dreamliner-787-battery-fires-burn-faa-and-media-too/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CrikeyBlogs%2Fplanetalking+%28Plane+Talking%29

      It leaves neither Boeing nor the FAA looking too clean.

      Regrettably it has a link within the article to the Wall Street Journal - a publication that is behind one of the Dirty Digger's paywalls.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Certification authorities are no longer engineering experts. Nor are PHBs.

        Nice article from Crikey (and from the WSJ) there, thanks.

        When I followed the WSJ link, it was available to me, not sure why (the Dirty Digger isn't on my pay-money-to list).

  23. Don Jefe

    Small Issue

    The press is overhyping this issue. The Internet is demonstrating its singular ability to spread FUD without understanding the safety net that makes air travel the safest mode of transport available.

    Anytime there is a completely new aircraft there are hundreds if not thousands of potentially catastrophic issues that are corrected after the craft has entered service. At the end of the day you get either a three or four decade old plane with millions of parts that is invisibly suffering from fatigue or a new plane that won't be sorted until it is already getting old.

    The upshot is that now is a good time to buy Boeing stock as the issues will get sorted & the FUD articles continue to have a negative impact on their price as unknowledgeable people sell off.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Small Issue - a small correction

      "The upshot is that now is a good time to buy Boeing stock as the issues will get shorted"

      There! ;-)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a big deal IMO

    Lithium ion battery issues are known. Just fix the batteries and get on with life. BTW, aluminum burns and melts also...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Interesting: Boeing $hills like "MachDiamond"

    The interesting thing about this kind of $hill is that they have quite a bit of commenting history generated to look "proper". Now this $hill claims he has done battery systems for some sort of rockets avionics and suggests a "fire suppression system" to be installed for the 787 battery system.

    Funny thing is, our creator, the flying spaghetti monster, also created chemistry and made some chemical reactions work WITHOUT GASEOUS OXYGEN. He even designed some reactions to work fully without oxygen ! Think that ! So some Battery types can burn even in outer space, if improperly treated or if our holy creator, the FSM, decides to spontaneously burn them. All the necessary stuff for the reactions are already in the battery.

    The only safe way to handle a large, burning high-capacity battery of this type would indeed be to drop it like military planes drop stuff. Immediately when temperature exceeds safe limits. The PHBs at Boeing/Thales won't allow this, so they "compromised" on steel encasings, apparently.

    But, always interesting to see Bursteller-Marston in action. Or was it XE Services ?

    http://www.marstonpr.com/about.html

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      Re: Interesting: Boeing $hills like "MachDiamond"

      I have to add that all "fire suppression" systems basically work by either removing oxygen, being anti-catalytic or lowering temperature to a point where reaction stops.

      The only problem being that the "fire" is INSIDE the battery. All these listed options don't work under that that premise. Removing oxygen won't help, as it is nit needed. Anti-catalytic stuff cannot be injected into solids. Lowering temperature normally works using water. But Li and H20 would result in an even bigger fire.

      And before you call me an Airbus $hill, I did blast Rollys-Royce when they tried to crash that A380 and nearly killed hundreds of passengers. Capital punishment would have been appropriate for the then RR CEO.

  26. dssf

    Idea... not novel, but still...

    Why did Boeing NOT design the battery bay rack to be on a self-sacrificing rail system? Surely, they know the batteries of this type that burn would produce their own oxygen. So, once on fire, they would probably run through their casings. The flame would then burn hold-back clips meant to be sacrificed in the event of fire. The burning unit would drop out, down a chute guiding it out of the plane.

    But, that idea definitely involves even MORE engineering -- either the skin of the fuselage has to be able to break away without tearing adjacent paneling, or a chute has to have a tube opening like the APU does in the tail.

    The problem with a chemical suppressant is it might not work fully, or it might add an unacceptable weight penalty. With tthe burn-jettison-self manner, no explosives or ejection systems are needed, so long as gravity is on the side of the self-sacrificing racks and hold-back ties.

    QUICK! Somebody patent a design and hold it over Boeing's head. Rememer me, please! I'd be happy to receive just US $30,000. Either Boeing will buy the patent, make their own, or ditch the battery type until it is made safer. Oh, and passengers will pay a few dollars extra for the privilege of having safer, but heavier (HOW MUCH HEAVIER???) batteries.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Idea... not novel, but still...

      So you're perfectly happy to have a large burning Li battery parachute through your roof, are you?

      You might also want to do a little research into the legalities of dropping items from aircraft other than in times of conflict. The Great Unwashed don't take kindly to it.

      1. dssf

        Re: Idea... not novel, but still...

        So, due to someone's lack of imagination, I took a -1 hit on a probability of the battery landing on a roof, not a certainty? If the battery stays IN the plane and fully consumes itself, it could cause (I presume cause or contribute to) structural failure that might lead to lost of control or stability -- depending on where the fire is, what control lines or data lines run by it, and the like. I want to assume that at least one of the batteries would be low enough to burn and fall out (but I am already perilously assuming much as it is), although the engine APU battery might be back in the tail. I dunno. Maybe someone would be kind enough to provide a graphic? I could help straighten me out and aid others, too.

        The idea is just the start (and, for all we know, Boeing may have run 3500 location permutation calculations and only accepted what is what is going wrong now).

        -- Sacrificial cage falls

        -- Cage-mounted Internal GPS takes over (if not burned up yet)

        -- Burning cage is vectored away from likely populated areas by vanes

        -- Cage Plumets down on projected course, again, assuming the cage is not fully burned up taking the control surfaces with it...

        Variation on the theme:

        -- Cage falls, battery assy is dangled below it

        -- Cage and vanes steer the assy (hopefully without any crazy caternary effects on initial vector)

        -- If cage assy burn-up is imminent enough to take out the control surfaces, then a charge blows the battery pack so it hopefuly accelerates in burn up (obviously, the charge itself could be a problem, but if it is a shaped charge, it might limit the radius of the self-destruct, and mabe just a sparkly light show happens with lots of smaller burning bits

        I am not an engineer, obviously, but if the burning bits are of high enough altitude (engineers can calculate that; i cannot) they may extinguish before landing on Earth, but hopefully land where there are no population centers.

        As far as an intact burning battery landing through the roof, we ALL accept (willingly or grudgingly) that aloft parts might land on us. Others have died from parts or even whole planes, so just what is wrong with my idea if the deaths involved are reduced? Well, changing the location of the deaths changes the actual victims. Maybe it's "playing God", maybe it's triage. But, why should a billion dollar plane (exaggeration, i know) and 300 lives face certain death if the plane is up too high and too far away from a safe landing field, when there is no guarantee that a burning battery will actually hit a house?

      2. Vic

        Re: Idea... not novel, but still...

        > the legalities of dropping items from aircraft other than in times of conflict.

        ANO Article 129 generally prohibits dropping anything from an aircraft without an appropriate certificate (i.e.permission), but subsection 3 explicitly exempts "the jettisoning, in case of emergency, of fuel or other articles in the aircraft".

        Note, however, that subsection 1 is still operational, and that requries "Articles and animals (whether or not attached to a parachute) must not be dropped, or permitted to drop, from an aircraft in flight so as to endanger persons or property."

        There's also the difficulty of ejecting a flaming battery from the pressurised part of the plane into the unpressurised atmosphere without substantially depressurising the plane (even in the event of difficulties because things have changed shape). It's not insurmountable, but I'll betcha it adds more weight than just using a battery that doesn't exhibit the problems in the first place...

        Vic.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flammable electrolyte leaking?!

    Sounds like a brown trousers moment when someone notices that one, at 30K feet and the BMU reports that the battery is at 150 deg C and climbing at 5C a second..

    $Deity only knows what the hell you do when you are ten seconds away from battery committing Hindenburgku and the nearest airport is an hour away.

    Ditching a $250M airliner in the sea just to put out the flames is a hell of a career ender.

  28. joejack
    Trollface

    X-Plane

    Who else wants to see a smoke-filled 787 cockpit worked into the next version of X-Plane?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    FIRE-FIGHTING MEASURES

    From http://www.google.de/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=burn%20lithium%20ion%20battery&source=web&cd=26&ved=0CF4QFjAFOBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwwwg.graco.com%2FDistributors%2FDLibrary.nsf%2FFiles%2FMSD083%2F%24file%2FMSD083D.pdf&ei=xeb5UPT9MMOH4gSXroDQDw&usg=AFQjCNEdyC488kc_jm17Yel0W8RpJzEKIg&cad=rja

    SECTION 5- FIRE-FIGHTING MEASURES

    If fire or explosion occurs when battery are on charge, shut off power to charger.

    In case of fire where lithium ion battery is present, flood the area with water. If any battery is burning, water may not extinguish

    them, but will cool the adjacent battery and control the spread of fire. CO2, dry chemical, and foam extinguishers are preferred

    for small fires, but also may not extinguish burning lithium ion battery. Burning battery will burn out. Virtually all fires

    involving lithium ion battery can be controlled with water. When water is used, however, hydrogen gas may be evolved which

    can form an explosive mixture with air. LITHX (powdered graphite) or copper powder fire extinguishers, sand, dry ground

    dolomite or soda ash may also be used. These materials act as smothering agents.

    Fire fighters should wear self-contained breathing apparatus. Burning lithium ion battery can produce toxic fumes including HF,

    oxides of carbon, aluminum, lithium, copper, and cobalt. Volatile phosphorus pentafluoride may form at a temperature above

    230o Fahrenheit.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More

    http://www.mpoweruk.com/lithium_failures.htm

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More Niceties

    http://www.caslab.com/ERG/Guide-147.pdf

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Cold-Steel, Teutonic Fix For Li-Ion Battery Clusterfuck

    1.) Rip out the Lithium Fireball shit. It is simply too dangerous. Already killed lots of people:

    http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AVWebInsider_Batteries_206994-1.html

    2.) Shell out 4000 dollars and installs two of these babies:

    http://www.auroragenerators.com/generators/portable-diesel-generators

    3.) Train the plane drivers ("pilots") to operate the diesel generators. They already don't get enough exercise.

    Fuel them using JP-8. It's almost the same as Diesel fuel.

    4.) Ignore the weight difference of a few kilos.

    5.) Go fly your planes.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What I want to know is ..

    .. why did they buy those batteries from Dell ?

    :)

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