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787 Dreamliner: Open Questions About Initial Battery Testing…

Boeing moves forward by putting 787 Dreamliner battery system through extensive testing aiming to increase its practical viability and safety standards during flights. But a central question about testing during its actual development is still remain open:

Boeing puts 787 battery through tough tests it once avoided – Chicago Tribune

To get its 787 Dreamliner flying again, Boeing Co is testing the plane’s volatile battery system to a rigorous standard that the company itself helped develop — but that it never used on the jet. Boeing’s decision has thrust an arcane standard known as RTCA to the center of the debate over whether Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were rigorous enough when they originally set standards for the 787 battery system in October 2007. The debate could have broad implications for the future use of lithium-ion batteries on aircraft. A committee co-chaired by Boeing published safety guidelines in March 2008 for using lithium-ion batteries on aircraft to minimize the risk of fire. But because they arrived five months after the FAA had approved a set of special conditions for the fire safety of the Dreamliner battery system, Boeing did not have to meet the more stringent guidelines. The FAA never required it, and Boeing did not choose to use them. Last week, Boeing decided to shift to the tougher RTCA standard for a revamped 787 battery system. The move came after regulators grounded Dreamliners worldwide in January following a battery fire on a Japan Airlines Co 787 at Boston’s Logan airport and a battery meltdown on an All Nippon Airways Co flight in Japan.

More immportnatly, the U.S. aircraft producer believes that its Dreamliner fleet can be airborne again in the weeks to come:

Boeing sees 787 airborne in weeks with fortified battery – News …

Boeing Co said its 787 Dreamliner jets could be airborne within weeks with a fortified power pack that would eliminate the risk of fire, confident the U.S. aviation authority would approve the redesigned battery soon. Regulators grounded all 50 of the carbon-composite Dreamliners in use by airlines worldwide in January after a battery caught fire on a Japan Airlines Co Ltd 787 jet at Boston’s Logan airport and a battery melted on an All Nippon Airways Co Ltd flight in Japan. Boeing, which has Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to test its new battery for certification, said Friday it will encase the redesigned power pack in a steel box, pack it with added insulation, heat-resistant material and spacers, drill drain holes to remove moisture, and vent any gases from overheating directly to the atmosphere outside the aircraft. “If we look at the normal process and the way in which we work with the FAA, and we look at the testing that’s ahead of us, it is reasonable to expect we could be back up and going in weeks, not months,” the 787’s chief engineer, Mike Sinnett, said at a briefing in Tokyo. But the Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB), FAA’s counterpart in Japan, dismissed Sinnett’s prediction, saying it was still too early to say when 787 operations could resume. Investigations by Japanese and U.S. transport regulators are still ongoing. The investigators may never uncover the root cause of those failures, Sinnett said. “Because we did not find the single root cause, we looked at everything that could impact a battery and set a broad set of solutions,” Sinnett said.

787 Dreamliner, Initial Battery Testing 1

On the other hand, what it caused the fire incidents on 787 Dreamliner aircraft is still unknown as Boeing is focused on redesigning the batteries and the FAA is closely watching:

Boeing outlines additional safety features for 787 batteries

The lithium-ion batteries have been a sensitive spot for Boeing because of the cloud that it cast over the new 787 Dreamliner. Exactly what caused the fires is still undetermined, but Boeing is confident that the redesign of the lithium-ion batteries and added safety tests will fix all the possible causes that Boeing and aircraft safety experts identified. If the modifications pass evaluation by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other international regulators, the 787 may return to service within a few weeks. Lithium-ion batteries are part of Boeing’s plans to move away from conventional onboard power systems that rely on a mixture of auxiliary power units and pneumatics to one where more electricity is used. The idea is to create a system that is lighter, cleaner and simpler by replacing pneumatic units and piping with electrical versions and wiring. This approach requires using lithium-ion batteries due to their high amperage, low weight and fast recharge times. Unfortunately, the same heating problems that have plagued such batteries in laptops and electric cars can also effect aircraft – which is where the series of proposed changes come in.

 

Finally, detailed testing of new systems on innovative aircraft is becoming a mandatory process by a given focus on flight safety. The 787 Dreamliner story is a current practical example for global aircraft producers…



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