Dreamliners grounded

After a series of mishaps and problems—the latest being an electrical fire before takeoff in Japan—Boeing's 787 Dreamliners have been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration. Only 6 are so far in service in the U.S., but with 800 in the production pipeline, much rides on the luxury airliner's success. At the NYT, Hiroko Tabuchi and Bettina Wassener:

The review by the U.S. aviation administration is unusual, just 15 months after the plane entered service following a lengthy certification process by the agency. That review is in addition to a formal investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board of what caused a battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane that flew to Boston from Tokyo last week. ... Boeing has sought to ease concerns about the plane’s design and reliability, and has said it is no more trouble-prone than other new commercial airplane programs.

Watch out for our special feature, "Dreamliner Marks Milestone Year", tomorrow at Boeing Boeing.


  1. They were just beta testing it with the help of the consumers. Surely the planes will run smoothly after their next software update. 

  2. As a battery guy I’m a little surprised Boeing used Li-ion for this battery, however the companies involved are all big names and presumably have done their homework…

    Edit: as an interesting side note, the battery itself could not be shipped to Boeing on a 787 due to Li-ion shipping regs, but can fly in one once installed…

    The battery is a high rate 8 series pack designed to discharge for a short period of time at 15kW and 600A, (7C rate discharge for those who know battery rate nomenclature). That’s a lot of amps, but similar in rate to a good DeWALT drill. (i.e. no special technologies)

    Based on the images on NTSB site the cells were isolated from each other, wired in series in an aluminum box. The usual intermediate cell voltages were brought out for monitoring to a circuit board that can turn off the pack if anything weird happens externally (but can’t do much for internal issues).

    Very curious to see findings in all this… companies involved would have tested the heck out of these… lots of shock and vibration etc.

    1. Out of curiosity, why are you surprised at the choice of Li-ion? The primary design consideration for any aircraft, after “Will it work?” and “Does it meet safety regulations?”, is “How can I make it lighter?”
      And to date, no battery has greater energy density than Li-ion.

      I will say this as well: any new material or component has to be decided on and tested and approved before it flies in an aircraft. So any material that didn’t exist 10 years ago? Expect to wait another decade before it starts showing up in planes.

      1.  Simple risk. The laptop industry has to recall batteries at about a 1 event per ~1 million shipped rate for mere smoking or swelling, and that’s with safer “energy” cells rather than “power” cells. (e.g. Sony, A123 etc) Was Boeing willing to have a single battery event cause grounding of the fleet, because that is what -was- going to happen based on the rest of the Li-ion industry.

        The problem with high rate cells is they often don’t have a rate-limiter (PTC) built in as it (surprise!) limits the discharge rate… but the PTC in laptop cells makes them safer as energy is released more slowly in an internal short issue. Again, more risk. If a power cell does go ballistic, it’s going to take its friends with it.

        Millions of well designed Li-ion laptop and cell phone batteries fly on passenger aircraft every year, yet somehow Boeing has managed to get 2 battery safety events out of ~49 aircraft.

          1. Shouldn’t be absurdly complicated.  Probably easier than replacing a battery in a Retina MacBook Pro… The batteries in question (APU, main) are the same part, and are designed to be replaced.  IIRC, the batteries in both the JAL and ANA planes were fairly new.

            They’re the same part so that if the main battery fails, the APU battery can be swapped in its place.  The main battery is required, the APU battery is not.

    2. Re not being able to ship them: of course.  If they’re in the cargo hold there’s no protection.  If they’re installed as part of the plane, they’re in a containment vessel designed (in theory) to contain a “thermal event” for at least 330 minutes as part of its ETOPS rating (look up the Wikipedia entry on ETOPS for more info).

      Take a look at the pictures from the Boston fire.  Much of the damage was in the containment vessel itself.


    3. What the hell do they need 600 amps for?  That’s enough current to execute a prisoner!  Are they powering the emergency anti-grav units?

  3. Just replace “2013” with “1995” and “787” for “777”. Every introduction of a new plane has its pains. The 777 was buggy as hell back in 1995. Today, not so much: 18 years of commercial service, more than 1000 units flying around and, get this, ZERO fatalities. A380? Same thing. Launched, wings crack, grounded. Fixed, nothing to see here, move along.

    1. Don’t forget the A380 engine explosion where chunks of the HP turbine punched holes in the aircraft, or the 737 jackscrew issues to name a couple. People have the attention spans and memory of goldfish.

  4. I had to dig a bit to find this story at all. Apparently CNN thinks this is 4th page news behind some football figure that stories are being made up about his girlfriend.

    I kid you not.

    Are there any real news organizations left?

    1. The Guardian and BBC News have had this story on their “US news” front pages since the Japanese grounded their 787s.

      Then again, you’ve got to admit that the story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s made-up girlfriend is pretty “WTF” material, even if you don’t follow US college football. It has the potential to take over the news cycle for some time to come.

  5. I happen to work on the Dreamliner, and I am proud to say so.  This is the most technologically advanced commercial aircraft to ever grace the skies.  While these news reports are disappointing, I think the right thing to do is to ground them all before there is a loss of life. 

    The issues are not necessarily structural, many seem to be systems-based.  I really believe this aircraft will not only change commercial aviation, but it represents a change in the quality of engineering and manufacturing that has never been seen before. 

    As a result, there are bound to be issues that will arise as this aircraft is the first of it’s kind in many respects. Let’s solve these problems and use the lessons learned to move forward and inform the next generation of aircraft that need to be built to not only resolve energy consumption and maintenance scheduling factors, but also the growing population and the future demand for air travel.  These aircraft and the ones that will follow will bring a lot of jobs in many sectors as the industry swells to accommodate demand.

    I have a great deal of faith in Boeing in that they are absolutely complicit with the regulations and policies of the FAA and their desire to satisfy customer needs. Boeing has no interest in negative publicity and I can assure you that the company culture instills personal accountability and a sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of the company in each and every employee.  Once these abnormalities are identified, things should be business as usual.

  6. Lessee… They changed leadership, moved headquarters 1500 miles from production, offshored half its manufacturing to China and half of the rest to South Carolina (not much diff there — low wages, no unions)…. gee, I guess tearing everything up and sprinkling it across a map of the Earth is not good for making quality products. Bah, quality is so 1960s!

    1. quality is so 1960s!

      Uninformed comment is unintentionally hilarious.

      Check out the history of the Lockheed 188 Electra, and the story of the DC-10 baggage compartment door and flight control cables.

      Both built by legacy manufacturers pre-1980, engines and airframes built Stateside by their long-established legacy workforces.

      And built with design defects that killed passengers by the hundreds.

  7. “Watch out for our special feature, “Dreamliner Marks Milestone Year”, tomorrow at Boeing Boeing.”

    I see what you did there…

Comments are closed.