Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
March 13, 2013

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Boeing’s Dreamliner Fix for Lithium Batteries Approved

Proposals made by Boeing to address the risk of lithium-ion battery fire in its fleet of 787 Dreamliners have been given the green light by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but subject to extensive testing and analysis.

Ray LaHood, US Transportation Secretary, said in a press release that the comprehensive testing required would demonstrate whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed. “We won’t allow the plane to return to service,” he said, “unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”

The proposed improvements include a redesign of the internal components to minimize the risk of a short circuit within the battery, enhanced insulation of the cells, and the addition of a new containment and venting system.

The FAA said that Boeing’s plan establishes specific pass/fail criteria, defines the parameters that should be measured, prescribes the test methodology, and specifies the test setup and design. FAA engineers will be present for the testing and will be closely involved in all aspects of the process.

Limited test flights for two aircraft in which the prototype versions of the new containment system will be installed have been approved by the FAA. The rest of the fleet of 50 Dreamliners will remain grounded worldwide.

In his blog, Boeing’s vice president for marketing, Randy Tinseth, explained the key elements of the three-layered fix:

  1. Addition of new thermal and electrical insulation
  2. Operational improvements to improve battery cell screening and production
  3. A new enclosure system that will prevent a fire developing in the battery enclosure in the event of cell overheating

As reported here on Monday, an interim report from the US safety regulator did not explain the reason for the Jan. 7 fire in the lithium battery of a 787 parked in Boston.

Boeing, which is reportedly losing $200 million a month, will no doubt be relieved that it has passed this milestone and can get at least some of its fleet back into the skies again, even if only for testing.

Depending on the testing going smoothly, the global fleet of Dreamliners could be back in the air by early May.

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