All 787s Now Grounded, Await Inspection Protocol

 - January 17, 2013, 9:29 AM
United Airlines flew six Boeing 787s before the authorities grounded the airplanes Wednesday evening. (Photo: Boeing)

Airlines around the world have grounded their Boeing 787s following the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Wednesday emergency airworthiness directive (AD) that requires United Airlines to stop flying its six Dreamliners until it demonstrates the safety of the airplanes’ batteries. Hours later, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) adopted the AD, forcing Europe’s only 787 operator—Poland’s LOT—to ground its two airplanes. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways had already grounded their fleets a day earlier, after the crew of an ANA 787 made an emergency landing in western Japan in response to a battery malfunction warning and the smell of smoke in the cabin.

On January 17 Qatar Airways officially responded to the AD, grounding all five of its airplanes, as did Chile’s LAN, which removed from service another three.

For its part, Boeing continued to “stand by” the overall integrity of the 787 and expressed confidence in its safety.

“The safety of passengers and crewmembers who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority,” said Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney in a statement.

“Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of the Boeing Company to assist.”


The Boeing 787 Dreamliners’ final assembly is in Everett, Washington, but much of the its individual components are manufactured by subcontractors in several countries like wings in Japan by Mitsubishi and carbon fiber airframes in Italy. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the first commercial airliner to deploy lithium ion batteries. The lithium ion batteries used in the 787 were not only chosen because they provide twice the capacity and half the weight of NiCad batteries, but also because of their ability to be charged back to full capacity faster than competing battery technologies.Japanese manufacturer GS Yuassa builds these lithium ion batteries.
Boeing chose to use Lithium Cobalt Dioxide as the cathode in the lithium ion batteries on these planes.This cathode chemistry is far more energetic, but; therefore, far more potentially hazardous than the Lithium Iron Phosphate cathode chemistry that is employed in the Government Motors (GM) Volt. Boeing 787 Dreamliner design was finalized and accepted by the FAA before the Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry became acceptable. It would seem to me that if Boeing replaced the Lithium Cobalt Dioxide cathode batteries with the Lithium Iron Phosphate cathode batteries, the chance of potential fires would be greatly reduced.
Lithium ion battery technology has been problematic and caused fires and explosions in less critical applications such as the AT&T broadband cabinets (Canadian made Avestor battery fires) and laptop computers. Three cargo plane crashes have been attributed to lithium ion battery fires in the cargo compartment including a UPS new Boeing 747 in 2010 in Dubai . What concerns more is the Aluminum wiring.
If Boeing cannot come up with a reliable fix then the Airbus A350 will pose a serious threat to the backlog of Boeing 787 orders since Airbus chose to retain the pneumatic system in A350 instead of electrical system.

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