Boeing 787 flight tests new battery system

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Boeing Co. has conducted the final test flight of its 787 Dreamliner to demonstrate the safety of troubled aircraft’s new battery system, as part of a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration certification exam.

“Today’s flight marks the final certification test for the new battery system, completing the testing required by the FAA,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in a press release Friday after the flight.

The company said the test flight was “uneventful” and that “the certification demonstration plan was straightforward.”

Authorities have grounded the entire global fleet of 50 Boeing Dreamliners after one operated by All Nippon Airways Co. had to make an emergency landing Jan. 16 at Takamatsu Airport, Kagawa Prefecture, because a lithium-ion battery created smoke in the cockpit. Nine days earlier, a battery fire broke out aboard a Japan Airlines Corp. 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Boeing said it has come up with a solution to the battery issue that includes increased thermal and electrical insulation and an enclosure to prevent overheating batteries from affecting other parts of the aircraft.

The cause of the battery malfunctions still hasn’t been determined, but Boeing assured in a March 15 presentation that the design changes will ensure the safe operations of Dreamliners.

Kyoto-based GS Yuasa Corp. will continue to manufacture the lithium-ion batteries installed in the aircraft.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to say Friday when he will decide whether to end the grounding of 787s in the United States. “I know you wanted something more definitive,” LaHood told reporters in Washington. “So does Boeing.”

The firm must convince federal regulators that the Dreamliner and its battery upgrade are safe before a flight resumption can be authorized, according to LaHood. The concept for the fix approved by the FAA in March “was a good plan” and the agency is now awaiting the results of the test flight, he said.

In Tokyo meanwhile, Masahiro Kudo, an accident investigator for the Japan Transport Safety Board, told reporters that the agency will conduct ground tests this week on the ANA 787 that made the emergency landing at Takamatsu.

The FAA approved Boeing’s plans to test and certify proposed changes to the Dreamliners’ battery system last month. The manufacturer said the test flight, using a jet built for LOT Polish Airlines and carrying two FAA representatives on board, lasted almost two hours. The aircraft took off from and landed at Paine Field Airport in Everett, Washington state, near a Boeing factory.

The company said it will analyze and submit the data to the FAA in the “coming days.”

Boeing’s ground tests included deliberately overheating the battery system to evaluate a stainless-steel enclosure designed to eliminate the possibility of fire, and a tube that would vent any liquid or vapors directly out of the aircraft. The spacing and insulation for the power cells has also been increased to prevent the spread of any overheating, while new circuitry has been installed for the battery chargers.

U.S. media reported that Boeing has already started preparations to make the necessary adjustments to the battery units of Dreamliners already delivered to airlines, including JAL and ANA, on the assumption that the aircraft will be certified as safe to take to the skies again.

  • Perhaps the direction of the investigation can soon change to Thales’ electrical systems, after the Amended Type Certificate data is Approved by FAA and other Nation’s regulators. The findings of Ms. Hersman’s inquiry could produce valuable results, if NTSB’s path were to go in that direction. The only difference in peocedures for ANA vs other Airlines, is that the IFE system was left on after landing in Boston. The populist assault on Japanese batteries has been driven by the mistaken notion that jet engines are electric start and the desire to eliminate private capital; by socialists in Europe and USA. It is a fine thing that these political forces have not caused the stake holders to lose focus on fixing the airplane.

    • TD47

      Mr. Tarver, interesting comment about the ANA plane having the IFE left on! I see from various pictures, that the ANA IFE livery could well have been the “older spec” devices, that would use more operating current than the newer spec ones (the later generations of multimedia kit follows energy ratings much better, IMO). So, the intference is that the ANA incident could have been sparked off (so to speak) by higher than usual sustained current, along with bad electronic regulation of same. So, bottom line is operational/procedural error combined with battery current regulation design spec fault? TD

  • Richard Harrison

    Let’s hope that 787 battery fix is a good one. The FAA furloughed all of their aviation safety inspectors who, on the behalf of the American traveling public, are the professionals that are (were?) supposed to make sure it works and keeps working during actual passenger operations – not just on some workbench.
    Just like control towers, each of these inspectors is in place because risks were identified to exist without them. Honestly, you can’t script this stuff.

    • Only a portion small of ASIs and support staff are furloughed, over collective bargaining rights. Most of the furloghs are for infrastructure improvement employees. Once the ticket tax is back in place, the furloughs will end; in perhaps 30 days. I don’t expect Congress to forgo the $30 million a day for long. Try not to confuse the Public over safety Richard.

  • Richard Harrison

    John, you couldn’t be more wrong. All 2800 FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors are furloughed. not only that, the B 787 is now the only air carrier fleet of aircraft in the U.S. without a FAA program manager to oversee maintenance and make sure things like the 787 battery fix keeps working during actual passenger operations – not just on some workbench. All large US aircraft fleets have a FAA program manager and an assistant, but not the B 787. Although the agency considers these positions
    to be safety critical, they have failed to fill them. Even worse, by furloughing all of their safety inspectors, the FAA has decided to accept the risk on behalf of the American public thank you very much, to significantly degrade the amount of B787 oversight to what they are willing to provide only – not what they should provide.