FAA Approves Proposal to Fix 787’s Batteries
The FAA approves (Federal Aviation Administration) this week Boeing Co.’s plan for testing proposed fixes for the lithium-ion batteries that sparked on-board fires, resulting in the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner jet.
The federal agency announced the approval Tuesday, saying it had thoroughly reviewed Boeing’s proposed modifications for its 787 battery system.
In its press release, the FAA said that the certification plan is the first step in the process to evaluate the 787’s return to flight. It mandates that Boeing conduct testing and analysis to demonstrate compliance with the applicable safety regulations and special conditions.
“This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. “We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”
The FAA grounded Boeing Dreamliners in January after there were two battery-related fires in planes in Boston and Japan.
The battery improvements include a redesign of the its internal components “to minimize initiation of a short circuit within the battery, better insulation of the cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system,” according to the press release.
“We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “Today’s announcement starts a testing process which will demonstrate whether the proposed fix will work as designed.”
The certification plan requires a series of tests that must be passed before the 787 can return to the air. The plan sets 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, according to the federal agency.
The FAA also has approved limited test flights for two aircraft that will have the prototype versions of the new containment system. The purpose of the flight tests will be to validate the aircraft instrumentation for the battery and battery enclosure testing in addition to product improvements for other systems.
The FAA said it will only approve the redesign if Boeing passes all the required tests and analysis to proved the new design complies with federal requirements.
The FAA’s Jan. 16 airworthiness directive, which required operators to temporarily cease 787 operations, is still in effect, and the agency is continuing its comprehensive review of the 787 design, production and manufacturing process.
Boeing issued a lengthy statement in response to the FAA’s approval.
“Our team has been working around the clock to understand the issues and develop a solution based on extensive analysis and testing following the events that occurred in January,” Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement. “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.”
Ray Conner, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that the company’s focus has been on developing a permanent resolution.
“Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions designed to significantly minimize the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane,” Conner said.
“Our proposal includes three layers of improvements. First, we’ve improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do,” he said.
“Second, we’ve enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components. Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we’ve introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers.”
Design feature improvements for the battery include the addition of new thermal and electrical insulation materials and other changes. The enhanced production and testing processes include more stringent screening of battery cells prior to battery assembly.
Operational improvements focus on tightening of the system’s voltage range. A key feature of the new enclosure is that it ensures that no fire can develop in the enclosure or in the battery.
Boeing made its certification plan proposal to the FAA in late February.
The FAA also granted Boeing permission to begin flight test activities on two airplanes: line number 86, which will conduct tests to demonstrate that the comprehensive set of solutions work as intended in flight and on the ground; and ZA005, which is scheduled to conduct engine improvement tests unrelated to the battery issue. Additional testing may be scheduled as needed.