Wednesday, January 16, 2013

FAA temporarily ground US-based 787s, foreign based 787s to follow suit

The FAA, this evening, ordered a temporary grounding of US-based 787s due to the continuing Lithium Ion battery issues.  The precipitating event was the leakage of the battery's caustic electrolytes in the forward E/E bay of ZA102 (LN 9, JA804A) during the flight in Japan yesterday.  According to Dominic Gates, in an article posted this evening, battery fluid sprayed out to distance of 12 feet away from the battery.   The electrolytes are flammable and could have easily started a fire in the lower bay.  Some of the spray was vented overboard through an outflow valve. The FAA had issues an emergency airworthiness directive requiring the grounding and inspection of all US-based 787s.  Typically other countries follow the FAA or EASA lead when they issue such directives and it is expected that other aviation regulators in the countries that fly the 787s will also ground the aircraft and follow the FAA's lead on the next actions.  The other countries include Ethiopia, Japan, India, Qatar, Chile and Poland. Japan, Poland, Qatar and Chile has already announced the grounding of the 787s under their authority and I do expect that Chile and India will follow very soon.

Here is the text of the FAA statement:

As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations.  Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.    
The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.
The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013. The AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery.  The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes.  The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation.  These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment.
Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information.  In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.

United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

Here is the text of Boeing's statement:

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney issued the following statement today after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive that requires U.S. 787 operators to temporarily cease operations and recommends other regulatory agencies to follow suit:
"The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority.
"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.
"We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service.
"Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers."
Thus the FAA is requiring the operators to prove to the FAA that the batteries are safe to operate on their flights. I expect that other aviation regulatory agencies will require the same of the 787 operators registered in their own countries.

It is not known how long the 787s will be out of service but as a point of reference, the FAA grounded the DC-10 in 1979 after a horrific crash of an American Airlines DC-10 in Chicago.  Those airplanes were grounded for a month.  The seriousness of this battery issue is not fully understood at this time but it may not last as long as a month. 

The maker of the battery, GS Yuasa of Japan is under a lot of pressure to figure out what is happening with their batteries.  Everything will be examined including the manufacturing of the cells themselves as well as potential flaws in the design.  Solutions may include switching to a different type of battery, perhaps Ni-Cads but I'm not sure if that is feasible.

In terms of production, I don't believe that Boeing will stop production and assembly of the 787 though they will not be able to carry out any test flights until they are cleared to do so by the FAA.  The ramps at Everett and Charleston will fill up if the emergency AD lasts more than a month.  What is not known is how this will affect the planned ramp up of the 787s later this year.

One area that may see an effect is the on going labor negotiations between Boeing management and SPEEA.  Already SPEEA has flowated the idea of extending the already expired contract. According the the proposal from SPEEA's web site, they propose to roll the items to which both sides have agreed to into the existing contract and extending the current contract another four years.  Boeing may be advised to take this offer as they can ill aford a strike at this juncture.  Here's the text from SPEEA's web site:

With the desire to focus all attention on solving the emergent issues with the 787, 
the SPEEA Professional and Technical Negotiation Teams today (Jan. 16) the union representing engineers and technical workers today (Jan. 16) proposed incorporating areas of agreement from ongoing negotiations into existing contracts and extending our Boeing contracts for another four years.

This “best and final” offer by SPEEA, IFPTE Local 2001, was presented as negotiations with Boeing resumed at 1 p.m. with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) at the SeaTac Hilton. 

SPEEA’s unprecedented offer would free Boeing and 23,000 engineers and technical workers from protracted and increasingly contentious negotiations that appear headed for a strike. It also allows the company and our technical workforce to focus on 
reaffirming confidence and proving the 787 
is the reliable and safe product employees know it to be. Completing negotiations also helps Boeing stay focused on supporting customers, engineering the 767 tanker, 737 MAX, increasing 737 and 777 production rates and the other products needed for our national defense.

“These negotiations have been going on for more than a year,” said Tom McCarty, SPEEA president and Professional Team member. “At this point, we should move forward with the items upon which we can agree, and leave the status quo in place for the remaining items.”

In addition to the proposed contract extension, SPEEA requested that Boeing continue to meet under the auspices of FMCS mediation to tackle the difficult issues that have proven so divisive in these negotiations.

“Our hope is that we can work collaboratively to find solutions in a data-rich environment outside of the constraints of the collective bargaining process” said Ryan Rule, Professional Team member. 

In making the proposal, SPEEA agreed to accept Boeing’s funding mechanism for the Ed Wells Partnership training program.  The status quo proposal continues to offset company medical costs through annual deductible increases based on salary growth.  To put to rest the pension issue, a major point of contention, SPEEA proposes to accept the same pension proposal that Boeing negotiated with the International Association of Machinists (IAM District 751). Finally, the contract extension offer is made with the understanding Boeing recognizes same-sex survivor pension benefits pursuant to Washington state law. 

“With our contracts put to rest, we can all roll up our sleeves and work the issues facing the 787 and Boeing,” said Sandy Hastings, Technical Team member. “SPEEA members know this is a great airplane, and we are eager to prove this to our customers, the flying public and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).”

SPEEA and Boeing started meeting in April to negotiate new contracts for 15,550 engineers and 7,400 technical workers. In October, engineers rejected Boeing’s initial offer by 95.5 percent. Technical workers rejected the company’s offer by 97 percent.  Existing contracts expired Nov. 25. Since resuming talks Jan. 9 after a month-long FMCS-imposed recess, members increased preparations for a possible strike. A 40-day strike in 2000 by SPEEA stopped deliveries and caused major factory and service bottlenecks at Boeing plants around the country.

The issues facing the 787 are extremely serious but they can be overcome.  The biggest hit will be to the 787s reputation and reliability.  Boeing will need to focus 110% of its talent and resources on fixing these issues and demonstrating that the 787 is a safe aircraft not just to their customers but to the traveling public.  I do hope that the FAA initiated review will get to the bottom of these problems and find solutions to them.  In the meantime, I'll continue to track the production of the 787 but I don't expect to see flights for another few weeks.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great update Uresh. So is there really a quick solution to this?? If they swap to a new battery how different are the batteries in comparison, ie the weight difference and can they fit into the areas that the current battery is located, from what ive read the current ones are lighter, can be molded into different sizes/shape and provide more power than other batteries. If they carry on with the current ones, how long will they have to test or fly to be satisfied that they have fixed the problem and they are safe again, considering the amount of time already the 787s have been tested and in service for. Why are these batteries now having a problem when it dosnt look like its happened with the 787 test fleet before.

I hope Boeing signs that contract with SPEEA and moves on to the bigger problems, last thing they need is a walk out and get themselves into a bigger whole

Andrew Munsell said...

If I were a Boeing manager I would be trying to push the 787-9 up a few spots as that is not grounded so if this grounding does last long, which I hope it doesn't , Boeing will have moved the 787-9 hopefully already into Final Assembly and it may get them at least some good press.

Brent said...

I just checked FlightAware and ANA and United both have planes in the air. I thought they might be ferry flights, but the United plane is going to ORD and one of the ANA planes is going to Seattle. LAN is still, apparently flying as well.

Rick Lieberson said...

can this be real???

Uresh said...


graeme77 said...

Flights that are usually done by 787's and are now performed by 777's or 767's still appear in Flightaware as 787's - that's why we see them.

Rick Lieberson said...

thanks for the explanation. Thought that may be the case, but you just confirmed it. Rick

Anonymous said...

This may be some good news and explain why the two batteries failed so close together.

TravelingMan said...

Many thanks for the link to the article Michael. It's the first hint I've seen of anything coming out of the battery investigation. I wonder if the Japanese company making this type of battery has a patent for them, or if other companies could manufacture similar batteries.

TravelingMan said...

Anonymous said...

Traveling Man I think I just came across the same thing but I will post the link anyhow.

TravelingMan said...

Anonymous said...

Will there be a huge number of finished 787s around PAE this time? No test flights are allowed either. They just got the rework numbers down and now this..

At least these new wont have to go through EMC I hope.

The 787 program is haunted by bad luck.

Andrew Munsell said...

At least they are reporting it is not the electrical system but the batteries, so it is not like they have to redo all the electrical systems, they just need to redesign the batteries and make new ones, test them, give them to the carriers and stick with the good design and implement this process ASAP.

On a good note: "The Boeing 787 is the nicest plane I've ever flown" - Capt. Stanislaw Radzio of LOT Polish, and one of their flight instructors since 1999. He was also the capt. of the 787 LOT Polish aircraft stuck at O'Hare with the groundings

David Cotton said...

IANAE, but I think any fix might be more involved than just redesigned batteries.

There are at least three aspects to this:
1) To find and fix the issue itself.
2) To mitigate the effects of the fire if the fix fails and it happens again.
3) An investigation as to why these issues were not picked up in flight test or earlier (could be done after return to flight).

Mitigation could be ensuring that if the battery catches fire, the fire does not spread (as it did not in these cases), and that the flammable electrolyte do not escape into other areas.

Current best case? Probably that the batteries were manufactured incorrectly (making it a factory test issue), and mitigation alterations are something simple like improved battery unit casings.

Worst case? At a guess, that it is a significant problem with the battery charging circuits that are not easy to fix, causing the FAA to lose confidence in the subsystem. Goodness knows what would happen then: would non lithium-ion batteries of the correct capacity even fit?

Let's hope the problem's found, reproduced, fixes developed and implemented soon, so the beauties can regain the air.

Anonymous said...

Based off what I am reading the batteries were operating at twice the design limit.

Two questions:

1) Shouldn't the batteries be designed and tested to operate at a higher voltage than normal operations.

2) If the investigation shows that the operating the battery caused the malfunction should be a relatively simple fix I.e. incorporate a voltage meter and a breaker so that if the voltage comes close to what should be over the operational design the breaker would trip and shut off power to the battery or close the loop until the voltage decreases and then power would be restored to the battery. Also I have been thinking that quite possibly the airlines weren't properly charging the batteries so that when a plane was at the gate the battery would charge and once airborne the battery would still charge. If the batteries are only needed for starting of the APU an in case of an emergency there should be an option for pilots to take the batteries off the electrical system one the APU is started and a the switch would turn the batteries on incase they were needed.

This is just my two sense from what I have been reading. Anyone else have any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Andrew, that would be terrible. In theory that's how it works but the redesigning and testing process would take several months (probably more than six). We better pray the investigation blames a bad batch or an assembly mistake by Boeing.

If not, does anyone know if it would be possible to put another battery in the 787 that Boeing already uses in other models as a temporary replacement? If not and the investigation blames battery design this would be catastrophic to the program since Boeing would need to design a new battery and then go through months of rigorous testing of that one.

Anonymous said...

Could experimental flights be allowed to say ferry frames to another location, say to Grant, a 30 minute flight from Paine field. If this goes on for a longer time Boeing will run out of space.

TravelingMan said...

Elon Musk said on a twitter posting that Tesla and SpaceX are willing to help with the batteries. They would certainly have a lot of expertise and knowledge to offer.

Andrew Munsell said...

I was hoping it would be a bad batch but it doesn't seem to be that way because of the one that had been flying more than 1 year

Anonymous said...

The one that had been flying for a year recently had its battery

Andrew Munsell said...

Entropian, I had no idea of the battery change.

I revolt my secondary theory, the "switch" theory and I apologize to Airbus. Also I am going back to my original "bad batch" theory.

Lets hope it was just a bad batch. I would like to see SpaceX/Tesla batteries in the 787, it would also help the US economy as they are US companies.

TravelingMan said...

TravelingMan said...

Looks like they're narrowing it down.

Anonymous said...

Just been reading this article below, but it seems more media are reporting the same story. I wonder how much of this is true. If it is true and Boeing Management believe the 787 should not be grounded or are in denial then there is seriously something wrong at the top of the chain. Also Ive heard that Boeing has gone back to SPEECA, and its looking likely SPEECA will not sign and strike...seriously Boeing Execs you just love making the hole bigger and bigger, and right now all the attention is on you and your not getting any good publicity out of this so what makes you think a strike will do you any good.

Max Williams said...

Why did the battery fluid sprayed out? The decision of FAA to ground the US-based 787’s is right. Proper aircraft maintenance should be done to prevent such incidents.

-aircraft avionics @ AvionTEq