Boeing Gets FAA Approval for Certification Plan for Dreamliner Battery Solution

By Paul Riegler on 12 March 2013
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ANA's Dreamliner in Seattle for launch flight in 2012

ANA’s Dreamliner in Seattle for launch flight in 2012

Boeing announced that it has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to implement its plan to test and certify improvements to the 787 Dreamliner’s lithium-ion battery system.  Failures of the high-tech batteries resulted in smoke and fire in two separate instances.

The decision to allow the testing comes roughly two months after the entire fleet of Dreamliners was grounded.  On January 16, a 787 had to make an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in Japan after smoke was detected in the cabin.  One week earlier, a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire while sitting parked at Boston’s Logan Airport.  Both fires were caused by the 787’s large lithium-ion batteries.

The plan is a multi-stage process and Boeing will have to complete each phase successfully to gain the FAA’s approval to put the Dreamliner back in the air.

Boeing is making several significant changes in the design of the batteries.  The first change will prevent faults from occurring and isolate any that do.  The second change is a combination of enhanced production, operating, and testing processes to ensure the quality of the batteries in the manufacturing stage.  Third, as a last resort, Boeing has designed an enclosure that will act as a containment system that will keep an overheating battery from impacting the aircraft or being noticed by passengers.

The changes will include the addition of new thermal and electrical insulation materials. The new testing procedures will include more stringent screening of battery cells prior to battery assembly. Operational improvements in the battery’s design will tighten the system’s voltage range. Additionally, the new enclosure will ensure that a fire cannot develop in the enclosure or in the battery itself.

“Our top priority is the integrity of our products and the safety of the passengers and crews who fly on them,” said Jim McNerney, Boeing’s CEO. “Today’s approval from the FAA is a critical and welcome milestone toward getting the fleet flying again and continuing to deliver on the promise of the 787,” he added.

Boeing worked with experts within the company as well as consultants to develop the new solution.  They are designed “to significantly minimize the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane,” said Ray Conner, head of the Boeing Commercial Airplane unit.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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