Report: FAA too reliant on Boeing for battery test

May 22, 2014 by Scott Mayerowitz
In this Jan. 7, 2013, file photo, a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 jet aircraft is surrounded by emergency vehicles while parked at a terminal E gate at Logan International Airport in Boston as a fire chief looks into the cargo hold. The FAA failed to properly test the Boeing 787's lithium-ion batteries and relied too much on Boeing for technical expertise, a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board says Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

The government failed to properly test the Boeing 787's lithium-ion batteries and relied too much on Boeing for technical expertise, a new report says.

The National Transportation Safety Board Thursday criticized the process used by the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the new jet in 2007. It also recommended that the FAA needed to look outside the aviation industry for technical advice.

The report directly conflicts with the FAA's own internal study released in March, which said the agency had "effective processes in place to identify and correct issues that emerged before and after certification."

The 787—also known as the Dreamliner—is the first commercial jet to rely on rechargeable to power key systems. The batteries are lighter, letting airlines save fuel. However, a January 2013 fire aboard a 787 parked at a gate in Boston broke out when one of a battery cell experienced an uncontrollable increase in temperature and pressure, known as a thermal runaway. Nobody was injured, but that fire—and a subsequent smoke condition on a separate plane nine days later—led to a worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner fleet.

Boeing subsequently redesigned the ventilation system around the batteries and the planes resumed flying. There are now 140 Dreamliners operating around the world. Another 891 have been ordered by airlines.

In this Jan. 24, 2014 photo, National Transportation Safety Board's Joseph Kolly, holds a fire-damaged battery casing from the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner that caught fire at Logan International Airport in Boston, at the NTSB laboratory in Washington. The FAA failed to properly test the Boeing 787's lithium-ion batteries and relied too much on Boeing for technical expertise, a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board says Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

In its report Thursday, the safety board says the problems go back to September 2004, when Boeing first told aviation regulators of its plans to use lithium-ion batteries on the 787. The FAA was forced to create the first-ever requirements for use of lithium-ion batteries on commercial jets.

One of the nine requirements the FAA came up with was that the "design of the lithium-ion batteries must preclude the occurrence of self-sustaining, uncontrolled increases in temperature or pressure." In other words, no thermal runaways.

When Boeing and the FAA worked together to set up certification tests in March 2006, they considered the smoke a battery fire might cause but, according to the safety board's report, "Boeing underestimated the more serious effects of an internal ." In January 2007, the FAA approved the testing plan proposed by Boeing. It did not include testing for such short circuits.

To avoid such oversights again, the NTSB suggests that the FAA needs to look outside the for expertise when approving a . For instance, the Department of Energy has done extensive testing on lithium-ion batteries. If the FAA had reached out to the Energy Department or other experts, the report says, the FAA could have recognized that its tests "were insufficient to appropriately evaluate the risks" of a battery short circuit.

The safety board recommends that the FAA reviews its lithium-ion testing process. Also, any certification of new technology should involve "independent and neutral experts outside of the FAA and an aircraft manufacturer."

The FAA has 90 days to respond.

Explore further: US says Boeing 787's design, manufacture safe

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US says Boeing 787's design, manufacture safe

Mar 19, 2014

Boeing's design and manufacture of its cutting-edge 787 jetliner is safe despite the many problems encountered since the plane's rollout, including a fire that forced a redesign of the its batteries, according ...

US: Lithium batteries not necessarily unsafe

Feb 06, 2013

The use of lithium ion batteries to power aircraft systems isn't necessarily unsafe despite a battery fire in one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and smoke in another, but manufacturers need to build in reliable safeguards, ...

Aviation technology advances, US tries to keep up

Jan 20, 2013

(AP)—The battery that caught fire in a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston last week was not overcharged, but U.S. investigators said Sunday there could still be problems with wiring or other charging components.

FAA orders Boeing 787 fuel leak inspections

Dec 05, 2012

The US Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it was ordering inspections of all Boeing 787 Dreamliners in service worldwide following reports of fuel leaks.

Recommended for you

Sony's quarterly loss balloons on mobile woes

4 hours ago

Sony's losses ballooned to 136 billion yen ($1.2 billion) last quarter as the Japanese electronics and entertainment company's troubled mobile phone division reported huge red ink.

Will Apple Pay be mobile pay's kick-start?

11 hours ago

If anyone can get us to use our smartphones as wallets, it's Apple. That's what experts think about the recent launch of Apple Pay, the first mobile wallet to work on an iPhone.

Google execs discuss regulation, innovation and bobble-heads

13 hours ago

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg help run Google, one of the world's best-known, most successful - and most controversial - companies. They've just published a new book, "How Google Works," a guide to managing what they ...

LinkedIn reports 3Q loss but sales climb

14 hours ago

LinkedIn Corp. posted a third-quarter loss on Thursday, but its results were better than expected as revenue grew sharply, sending shares of the online professional networking service higher in extended trading.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.