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Dreamliner: Boeing 787 Aircraft Battery "Not Faulty"

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the everything-checks-out dept.

Japan 184

SternisheFan writes "Airline safety inspectors have found no faults with the battery used on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, Japan's transport ministry has said. The battery was initially considered the likely source of problems on 787s owned by two Japanese airlines. The world's entire fleet of 50 787s has been grounded while inspections are carried out. Attention has now shifted to the electrical system that monitors battery voltage, charging and temperature. Transport ministry official Shigeru Takano said 'we have found no major quality or technical problem' with the lithium-ion batteries. Shares in GS Yuasa, which makes the batteries, jumped 5% on the news. 'We are looking into affiliated parts makers,' he said. 'We are looking into possibilities.'"

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184 comments

Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (0, Troll)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716833)

They should look into that. I've found it to be vastly underrated as a cause.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42716881)

Yeah, we should just suck out all of the oxygen in air crafts. That will prevent all fires

Osama Blue Laden (3, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716917)

It would stop terrorism also: what a bargain!

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (2, Funny)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716935)

Or we could at least let people roll down the windows when there is a fire.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42716977)

Yeah, we should just suck out all of the oxygen in air crafts. That will prevent all fires

No need to suck. Just open a window at altitude, the air should be thin enough to prevent many type of fires. :-)

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (1)

SpzToid (869795) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717549)

Sure the sudden increase in low air pressure might put out an onboard fire, along with a few of the passengers inside.

Here's a reference from appropriately-named ALOHA airlines: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,149181,00.html [time.com]

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (1)

FrankSchwab (675585) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717175)

Funny, but it's unlikely to be much of a contributor to a fire in a Lithium-Ion battery.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (2)

Z00L00K (682162) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718963)

On the contrary - lithium interacts very much with oxygen, and if oxygen did enter the battery cells due to pressure changes then it may still be the culprit.

And pressure changes are normal on an aircraft - especially at take-off and landing.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717319)

Actually it would not help. The nasty thing about these battery fires is the battery chemistry SUPPLIES OXYGEN.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (3, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717829)

OMG, so THAT'S what Uncle Sam meant when he trained me to fight Class Delta fires!! Well, just push the damned thing overboard, and let the giant squids at the bottom of the sea worry about the fire!

Which reminds me - I saw a video one time - wonder if I can find it again . . . .

Can't find that particular video now, but this one gives you the idea:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95O-bQo04Ok [youtube.com]

A fire department arrived at the scene of a cargo fire on board a tractor trailer. They proceeded to hose the fire down, and before they were done, a dozen other trailers had caught on fire. The fire would burn merrily along, the firemen would turn a hose on it, it exploded, they ran, and when the flames started to die down some, they would repeat. I wanted to laugh - but I've stood to close to the fire to many times to laugh, I kept expecting the fools to kill themselves.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717899)

Can't wait to get home and watch that LOL. Magnesium maybe?

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42719005)

Yep. Titled "How not to put out a Magnesium fire"

Before reading the title, I thought it was an alkali metal.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (4, Insightful)

deadweight (681827) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718023)

I once tried to put out a burning SOLAS flare and no amount of throwing crap on it would work. It was kind of embarrassing so I threw it over the side and then the fkn thing is burning UNDERWATER and producing all kinds of smoke and steam PLUS lighting the water up bright red. No.....nothing going on here......oops...

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (-1, Offtopic)

kiosjahu (2826723) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719443)

http://www.cloud65.com/ [cloud65.com] as Rhonda implied I am amazed that a stay at home mom able to get paid $4005 in 1 month on the computer. did you read this page

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (2)

reub2000 (705806) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718827)

They tried that method of fire suppression. Then some idiots mislabeled canisters containing an oxygen generator and then they found their way into the cargo area of a passenger airplane. When the oxygen generators activates mid flight they provided both the ignition source and oxygen defeating the type of fire suppression system that you are suggesting. And thus it is no longer allowed.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718945)

Consider the fact that batteries are experiencing pressure changes, vibration, temperature changes in addition to being charged/discharged and the fact that lithium interacts aggressively with oxygen and water as well I would say that the choice of that battery type is risky.

Pressure changes may cause oxygen to penetrate the batteries and make them fail.

That leads to the fact that the OP may be more right than funny.

Re:Oxygen is usually the culprit in most fires (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719619)

Media should learn when to shut up. Or people should think a bit more.

The process of Diagnosing a 787 isn't easy, a lot of parts, you first check the most likely causes and go further. The media love to jump and post the first guess from the engineers and scientists (a new study (That is in process, and hasn't been proven or peer reviewed) to show x = y, so it is written to make us think x = y), things like this just makes the common folk fear Ethnology and Science because it makes us sound like a bumbling idiots who change our mind and now say the truth has changed once again.

Japanese covering their butts? (4, Insightful)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716893)

Japanese government agency defending a Japanese company. I wait for a more objective report which I believe is in the pipeline.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (4, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717003)

All they are really saying is that the chemistry and packaging on the batteries was within spec. Like most lithium battery problems though, the problem is in the control hardware. So really this press release is just telling us something that we already figured out: That the charging circuit for the battery is defective.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717135)

This [mpoweruk.com] is a nice quick review of Lithium nastiness....

Possibility (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717137)

If the battery itself is not defective in its construction, then I would posit that the charging circuitry was just badly designed. If you charge the battery too quickly, It overheats, and smokes.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (1)

beltsbear (2489652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717445)

Most likely the problem is NOT in the charging circuit. Most probably the batteries are wearing out more quickly then spec and becoming more sensitive to charging within (but near the edge of) spec. There may not be enough battery monitoring going on to look for anomalies that could be detected and stop the use of the batteries as they degrade. In the end they are really going to regret using lithium ion batteries. The extra containment they need when they fail is going to make up for the weight savings over NiMH.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717545)

Exactly. I am wondering how many months the planes that have this problem have been in service. Why didn't this overheating problem happened in the earlier months? Testing a new battery will not get you anywhere. Testing an aged one maybe.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (3, Funny)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717657)

Exactly. I am wondering how many months the planes that have this problem have been in service. Why didn't this overheating problem happened in the earlier months? Testing a new battery will not get you anywhere. Testing an aged one maybe.

You guys should work for Boeing, I bet they never thought about testing used batteries from a different aircraft, or testing other, non-failed, batteries from the problem aircraft.

When they said they ruled out the batteries, they probably just rang up the battery manufacturer and said "Hey, we need to test your batteries, send us a couple new ones. But make sure they are ordinary batteries off the production line, don't spend all night cherry picking the best ones".

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (1)

Alex Zepeda (10955) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718027)

One of the planes was about a year old, the other a couple weeks. The older plane had seen its Li-Ion batteries replaced in more recent times, and the two suspect batteries were within 30 serial numbers of each other. If they're wearing out *that* quickly I'd be worried.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (1)

jandrese (485) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719195)

Would it be weird that they're within 30 serial numbers of each other when there are only 50 of these aircraft in service? I don't think this particular battery is a COTS product.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (5, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717153)

As opposed to the American company that is heavily supported by the American government telling us the fault must lie with the Japanese batteries it bought. I see where you are coming from.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717213)

Japan; not China.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42719427)

I wait for a more objective report which I believe is in the pipeline.

Sure, US agency investigating US company..

In the Bad Old Days of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot used to fly any new airliner for 12 to 18 months with no payload except cargo. Only when bugs had been ironed out and the aircraft proved safe were passengers embarked.

But of course that would restrict the free market.

Re:Japanese covering their butts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42719445)

What is objective in your eyes? A report from an American government agency defending an American company by trying to pin it on a Japanese company?

Carpet! (-1, Troll)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716899)

Blame it on the carpet: it worked for Toyota in NoBrakesGate.

Re:Carpet! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42718589)

It did. Not because the carpet was actually at fault, but it's less costly to recall a bazillion floor mats than to tell the customers a truth they don't want to hear: that the crashes were mostly the fault of panicked drivers frantically stomping on the accelerator.

Japan: still the undisputed world champions at face-saving.

Which way will it go? (4, Interesting)

Shoten (260439) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716903)

The 787 is a revolutionary aircraft on many levels, from features to construction technology to production methods. I would expect there to be unforseen issues resulting from interaction between different systems. What I'm curious about is whether Boeing will get them all sorted out quickly enough...in which case they will be superbly positioned to compete, having mastered the many challenges around making the 787 what it is. If they don't, then they will be in terrible trouble. I feel like I'm watching aeronautical history playing out before my eyes.

I hope they get it all fixed in time, personally. The 787 is a hell of a plane. Check it out here: http://www.newairplane.com/787/ [newairplane.com]

Re:Which way will it go? (2, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716997)

Do you work for Boeing or something...?

Re:Which way will it go? (3, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716999)

The 787 is a revolutionary aircraft on many levels, from features to construction technology to production methods. I would expect there to be unforseen issues resulting from interaction between different systems. What I'm curious about is whether Boeing will get them all sorted out quickly enough...in which case they will be superbly positioned to compete, having mastered the many challenges around making the 787 what it is. If they don't, then they will be in terrible trouble. I feel like I'm watching aeronautical history playing out before my eyes.

I hope they get it all fixed in time, personally. The 787 is a hell of a plane. Check it out here: http://www.newairplane.com/787/ [newairplane.com]

I'm not surprised by unforseen issues from the new technology and design (like the fuel leaks that have been reported), I'm quite surprised to see battery problems since they must have already run the batteries and charging system through many thousands of simulated takeoff/landing cycles both in bench tests and while installed in a test airframe.

Re:Which way will it go? (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717197)

I'm not surprised by unforseen issues from the new technology and design (like the fuel leaks that have been reported), I'm quite surprised to see battery problems since they must have already run the batteries and charging system through many thousands of simulated takeoff/landing cycles both in bench tests and while installed in a test airframe.

This. They knew the batteries were problematic. The Boeing engineers and subcontractors aren't idiots. Even if the snarky NYT opinion piece which suggests that Japanese firms were preferentially picked for financial rather than technical reasons is true - those said Japanese firms aren't exactly slouches (GL-Yeasu (sp?) makes Lithium ion batteries for spacecraft.

Sounds like a production issue. But these things are complicated. Look at the F22. That's why it's called the bleeding edge.

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717039)

" Attention has now shifted..."

You would think that given the importance of finding the problem here, they would have teams working in parallel looking at all the possible causes. They probably do, but the reporters just don't understand.

Re:Which way will it go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717051)

Revolutionary....could you list these revolutionary aspects otherwise you sound like someone from the Boeing marketing dept.

Once you've done that please list the revolutionary innovations and inventions in the iPhone....

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717107)

Thanks for the update Mr. McNerney

Re:Which way will it go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717121)

Right. Well, it's not a bloody XBox, these things should have been tested BEFORE being sold all over the world.

There was a joke, about what happened if Microsoft designed a car. Is this the same one about a plane?

Re:Which way will it go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717407)

Is this the same one about a plane?

No, that one has already been done [netjeff.com] .

Windows Airline: The airport terminal is nice and colorful, with friendly stewards and stewardesses, easy access to the plane, an uneventful takeoff...then the plane blows up without any warning whatsoever.

Re:Which way will it go? (1, Insightful)

steelfood (895457) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717207)

I was more excited about the A380 myself, but I realize that there's a very small market for such large planes.

The 787 is using a lot of unproven tech. "Revolutionary" is good when it's built on sound fundamentals. I'm not sure the 787 was built this way. Rather, I suspect it was built on barely-good-enough and laboratory-tested, which are not encouraging signs.

There's a reason why a lot of civilian technology comes out of military research. Using it in the military will test the technology in the real world to hell and back again (literally, even). And the military can compensate for greater risk of partial or full failure, both by the operators' prior training and greater built in redundancy as a result of a higher price tag that only the military would pay.

I don't think the technology used in the 787 came out of this system.

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717835)

Prior to this battery issue, the most noted aspect of the 787 was the composite construction, which was certainly pioneered in military aircraft.

Maybe lithium-ion batteries have been, too; I don't know. But IMHO considering how many millions of lithium-ion batteries are in service around the world, and in how many different applications, this can't be such a fundamental flaw. I think more likely a bug.

Re:Which way will it go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42718055)

Considering, if I remember correctly, a couple of cargo aircraft have crashed due to lithium batteries catching fire when they're not even plugged in to charge, it does seem a rather brave idea to use them in airliners.

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718135)

And the military can compensate for greater risk of partial or full failure, both by the operators' prior training and greater built in redundancy as a result of a higher price tag that only the military would pay.

And by a tolerance for (or apathy towards, po-tah-to) loss of life in regards to compensatory damages.

In recent years, though, families have begun to sue manufacturers of military craft (e.g. Sikorsky) for wrongful death, so maybe this dynamic will change.

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719587)

I was more excited about the A380 myself, but I realize that there's a very small market for such large planes.

Forgive me, but is that true? I live in NZ and most planes to/from here are 747s of some colour. Those planes have been the backbone of international fleets for decades (the sixties?). I would say that there's a huge market for long-haul big planes - world population is going up, countries aren't getting any closer. The world's fleet of 747s will eventually need replacing with more 747s, or 380s, or ... something of that size. But now the long-haul runs need to be fuel-efficient and cheap.

And safe. And fun. (thank goodness for seat-back tv...)
I hope the Dreamliner comes right - but I'm looking forward to a flight in a 380 more than a 787.

Re:Which way will it go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717475)

So you are saying that a company is about to be judged by its ability to troubleshoot and solve technical problems with one of its products.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is indeed "News for Nerds!".

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717769)

yes!.
capability of fixing problems.
Though I would rate the ability to nix design problems before they endanger customers significantly higher.

Every oaf can do colorfull leaflets and produce problems while offshoring all responsibility.

Re:Which way will it go? (1)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717671)

What I'm curious about is whether Boeing will get them all sorted out quickly enough...in which case they will be superbly positioned to compete, having mastered the many challenges around making the 787 what it is.

You will find that Murphy has a big bucket of bugs to keep dishing out from for the Dreamliner and Boeing.
IMHO This is a product jinxed by management hubris.

I hope they get it all fixed in time, personally. The 787 is a hell of a plane. Check it out here: http://www.newairplane.com/787/ [newairplane.com]

PR drivel, the only vector of exellence for Boeing these days.

more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (4, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716933)

Even though every pound saved cuts thousands of pounds of fuel and carbon emissions over the plane's lifetime, this extra is small compared to the total plane mass, passengers and luggage. Not to mention having and expensive plane out of service for possibly months.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717079)

At this point, since it;'s not the batteries themselves, it's most likely the charging system that's faulty. Li-Ion batteries have a more extreme reaction to overcharging, but it's not like lead-acid batteries wouldn't have problems.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717251)

All LI-Ion batteries are suppose to have over charge protection. If that battery relies on the charger not to over charge. That is a weak design. All laptop chips have that built in. A battery that large on a plane should certainly have it.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (4, Informative)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717435)

On single cells, that protection is a small IC affixed to one end of the battery. In a battery pack, there is a protection circuit that covers the entire pack. For a battery bank, it's perfectly reasonable to combine the protection circuit with the charging system. In consumer goods where the battery isn't a user replaceable item, the protection is built in to the charging circuit. In any of those cases, a defect in the protection circuit can lead to a problem.

In all of the above cases, the protection includes preventing over charge and over discharge (fatal to LiIon batteries).

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42718291)

In a typical safety system you would have one circuitry controlling the charging and another one supervising the battery state (for over-temperature, too high charging voltage or current, ... ). The problem is typically testing that the second circuitry (i.e. the supervising one) as that test could require unsafe states (e.g. charging with a too high voltage). But if you cannot test the supervision, it could fail unnoticed and later not detect a failure of the control circuitry leading to a burning battery.

Normally one would not expect such a failure to occur several times in a short time frame, so probably a systematic fault (i.e. a development fault) is involved too.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719319)

Yes, in the Boeing case, there must be a design flaw somewhere. Some set of conditions that didn't exist when they tested the things must be able to cause an overcharge without tripping the protection or causing an alert.

It could even be that the system as designed works fine until vibration breaks something.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (1)

Chuckstar (799005) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719067)

Of course it has over-charge protection. Most likely that protection is exactly what went wrong. It's not like they can just put a mechanical switch in there like a circuit breaker. It's all chips nowadays, you know.

Re:more conventional batteries add few hundred lbs (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719933)

Even though every pound saved cuts thousands of pounds of fuel and carbon emissions over the plane's lifetime, this extra is small compared to the total plane mass, passengers and luggage.

*sigh* We've been through this before - yes, the total saved is small per flight. But multiply it out across the decades the plane will be in service and it adds up to a very substantial sum. To folks who have to actually pay the bills, this matters. Hell, to anyone with a basic understanding of accounting (rather than trying to "prove" how "smart" the are(n't)), this matters.

Ob (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year and a half ago | (#42716943)

Somebody was holding it wrong.

Re:Ob (1)

beltsbear (2489652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717235)

Actually the Steve Jobs quote would be "your flying it wrong."

Ask Dell (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42716991)

Dell had battery fire problem in 2006. It also was a Japanese supplier. Boeing could ask Dell for more details.

A Bit of a Deceptive Statement (3, Interesting)

Silentknyght (1042778) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717047)

Driving into work this morning, I heard this same quote on NPR:

"Airline safety inspectors have found no faults with the battery used on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, Japan's transport ministry has said."

Worded as such, I think most people would get the wrong impression. They're defining the battery as if it's sitting in someone's pocket, detached from any relevant system & unable to charge or discharge; I didn't think of it that way, and I'd suspect most others didn't either. Most news outlets could use the clarity (albeit, only eventually) provided by the BBC article. The battery *itself* is not the culprit, but investigators essentially *do* still suspect the battery *system,* including the batteries themselves.

But Charging system was already cleared (1)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717095)

I read previously that the charging system was already cleared, such as indicated in this article: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2020230108_dreamlinerbattery28xml.html?prmid=4939 [seattletimes.com]

Re:But Charging system was already cleared (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717315)

Not quite. The battery controller in the Boston fire specced out OK. That's useful but there are hundreds of other bits of electronics connected to the battery and the controller (something controls the controller). It probably isn't going to be a simple case of one thing out of spec - those would be picked up in the pre delivery checks. It's likely something that requires an interaction between a couple (or many) devices to create an edge case that no one has figured out.

Of course, you're going to work the problem from simple to complex - look that battery, then the charging system and work backwards. What I'm surprised we haven't heard is the results of disassembling the other batteries in planes that have not failed. I'm pretty sure that every 787 battery ever made is sitting on workbench in Seattle or Japan.....

Not entirely surprising (5, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717119)

Not entirely surprising, its usually the charger and/or the discharge protection ckts. Ask the RC electric airplane people who have at least a decade or so experience with lithium batteries in airplanes and burning them up. I was into RC planes back when everyone used NiCad but I've kept up with recent events. The batteries themselves rarely burst into flame, they burst into flame when you connect them to something that does something very naughty well outside the limits of the datasheet.

I think this will probably, in the long run, turn into a "EE ethics and morals class" debate. So discharging 15 amps out of a 10 amp pack results in a 0.001% chance (actually pretty high) of blowing the pack up per the data sheet. However not supplying 15 amps to the engine control system during an alternator malfunction (or whatever) means the engine shuts down and 500 people have a near 100% chance of death. "just follow that datasheet" stuff could kill lots of people, then again "ignore the datasheet" could kill lots of people too. So if you must use lithium batteries (why?), then you can find a local minimum death rate which will not be zero... of course finding that might have to be done via experiment on unwilling crash victims, whole nother ethical issue. Basically, we're trading human life for slightly improved gas mileage, which certainly makes me want to fly on a carrier using airbus products instead of boeing products, which has other ethical issues, etc. Is the ethical/moral failure the managers for doing it despite advice against, the engineers fault for not committing career and economic suicide by refusing to design a lithium aircraft pack, the supplier for making batteries for an unsuitable purpose, the arabs fault for making jet fuel so expensive so we have to kill people with lightweight batteries, ...

The simplest thing is a battery drop tank arrangement or a rather stout thick wall steel case, making the works heavier than using old fashioned lead acid.

Re:Not entirely surprising (2)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717173)

So discharging 15 amps out of a 10 amp pack results in a 0.001% chance (actually pretty high) of blowing the pack up per the data sheet. However not supplying 15 amps to the engine control system during an alternator malfunction (or whatever) means the engine shuts down and 500 people have a near 100% chance of death.

So what you're really saying is "Take the number of [batteries] in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one. "

Re:Not entirely surprising (1)

vakuona (788200) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717385)

That’s what the bean counters call a simple actuarial analysis.

Re:Not entirely surprising (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717493)

There's also some net present value calcs of taking to profit today vs paying the settlements years later, but yeah.

Re:Not entirely surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717613)

Along with when you are going to be safely retired and elsewhere.

Re:Not entirely surprising (2)

TFAFalcon (1839122) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718985)

No, you want to still be employed. That way they have to give you a golden parachute when they fire you.

Re:Not entirely surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717659)

You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

Re:Not entirely surprising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717707)

"Which airline do you work for?"

Re:Not entirely surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717715)

Someone saw fight club...

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Nuanced response (5, Informative)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718255)

So what you're really saying is "Take the number of [batteries] in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one. "

The actual answer is more nuanced.

FAA regulations define 5 levels of critical for safety systems: levels A through E.

Level A is for things that can knock a plane out of the sky when they fail; for example the stall speed alarm.
Level C is for things that can cause injury or at most a single death; for example, the cabin pressurization system
Level E is for things that don't affect flight safety; such as, in-flight entertainment or the microwave in the galley

For reference, I wrote the software for cabin pressurization systems. It's level C (hardware == B), which means that failure in pressurization is an emergency situation, but isn't expected to kill everyone on board. The masks drop and the pilot immediately dives to under 10,000 feet to restore breathable air.

If the cabin fills with smoke, it's not life-threatening per se. The pilot can override the pressurization system and "dump" the cabin atmosphere, and it clears pretty quick. (The captain also dives to under 10,000 feet if necessary.)

The battery catching fire isn't a problem SO LONG AS the fire itself won't cripple the aircraft. The battery underpowering the plane when the alternator dies MAY BE a problem which would kill people.

The people who design these things take these levels into consideration, and the general rule is "fail safe". If you can't "fail safe", then "fail in the least dangerous way". In my experience, the engineer must make many choices when designing an aircraft unit. The answer is always "do it *this* way, because if *that* happens it will be less dangerous.

Let's wait and see what the investigation uncovers. Here are some Cliff notes:

1) Li-Ion batteries might behave differently at altitude (cabin pressure is reduced while flying)
2) The battery may be performing to spec, while trying to compensate for a more dangerous problem
3) Smoke in the cabin is not as dangerous as you might think
4) Things that burn are designed to not damage things when burning
5) People who design aircraft are pretty smart, and have a generally high moral standard.
6) People who investigate aircraft incidents are really, really thorough, and have a good track record.

(Note: Glossing over some details to make an easier read.)

Re:Nuanced response (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719147)

The battery catching fire isn't a problem SO LONG AS the fire itself won't cripple the aircraft. The battery underpowering the plane when the alternator dies MAY BE a problem which would kill people.

The former is critical, the latter isn't an issue.

The fire can be contained, but it's the lithium that's a problem because it accellerates oxidation of aluminum. It's why there are regulations in place on transport of lithium in aircraft because a tiny bit of lithium can easily eat through critical aircraft structure and cause them to fail. (And considering lithium creates fire when exposed to water, you'd think Boeing would've designed a dessicant for the isolation box as well to minimize it - it's not lithium exposed to air, but lithium rips water apart with such ferocity that the hydrogen then burns and you get fire. And Boeing certianly knows about inerting systems).

As for underpowering systems - there are emergency checklists for that - if an alternator fails what busses go down and what non-eseential loads are shed. Likewise, if everything goes down and you're on battery, what breakers you pull to keep essential avionics only. This often includes removing cabin power (including lighting), and even down to one set of glass for the pilot (copilot has to use backup instruments), one radio, no transponder, no flight management system, maybe even no GPS/NAV radios.

Even the when-all-else-fails turbine that pops out provides even less power - a radio and flight instruments (maybe not even ehough for the main avionics computers so it's just backup instruments), and only enough hydraulics to keep the plane controllable (aileron/rudder/elevators... flaps are a luxury).

Re:Nuanced response (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719379)

he said, "The actual answer is more nuanced. [gigantic detailed examples of possible outcomes].."

Sheesh. Doesn't *anyone* get the cultural reference I was quoting?

Screw it; I'm off to make some soap from human fat.

Tyler Durden (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719795)

FWIW, I did get the reference (and I own the movie).

I was addressing the intent of the reference in its original context. There's lots of reason to despair the heartless actuarial calculations of corporations, but only where warranted.

Note that I didn't snark your post (an urge that I find difficult to control). Don't be disheartened - your post wasn't modded "Funny", even though it's a valid attempt. I was just trying to supply some background.

Not insightful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42717861)

Airplanes haven't used lead-acid batteries in decades. They use NiCd batteries.

Flying on an Airbus aircraft is more dangerous that any Boeing. Boeing still believes the pilot should have ultimate control, while Airbus will completely override the pilot. Two Airbus aircraft have crashed and killed people because the computer ignored the pilot.

Re:Not insightful (1)

deadweight (681827) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718101)

Ahh - not sure how to put this - but I have bought lead acid batteries for airplanes and it wasn't THAT long ago. Concorde makes a whole line of AGM lead acids to replace NiCads in various sizes including what Boeing uses.

Re:Not entirely surprising (1)

Kagato (116051) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718649)

Each engine and the APU in the tail have two generators attached, plus there is the RAT for emergencies. By all accounts the batteries are more or less there for consistency between power phases. The APU is supposed to be running during ETOPS segments, so one has to wonder what the power drain on the packs was to begin with. You would think the likely time for an accident would be on the taxiway while stuck for a long departure wait. I could see some engine stop and starts happening that might create the conditions for excess loads.

Re:Not entirely surprising (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719971)

Basically, we're trading human life for slightly improved gas mileage, which certainly makes me want to fly on a carrier using airbus products instead of boeing products

If you think Airbus isn't doing the same thing, you're deluding yourself. Minimizing the fixed weight load is the name of the game in aircraft design, and has been for a very long time. (Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Foods, and pretty much every other company too... You want cheap flights, cheap cars, and cheap breakfast cereal, you're going to pay for it.)

Electrical Relay's (2)

gabereiser (1662967) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717159)

So, this comes to me as no surprise. What's really (guesstimation here) happening is probably that the electrical relay that's responsible for charging the batteries off of the engines generators isn't detecting the voltage properly, resulting in overcharging the batteries which results in them catching fire. The APU generator has enough juice to power some minor systems, avionics, air cond., and flight controls. The engine generators (which are usually kicked on after pushback and startup procedures have been completed) charge the batteries, have enough juice to run all the aircraft systems and then some. Hell, you can even run on only 1 generator, the 787 has 2 like the 737... My deduction of all of this is that the relays responsible for charging the batteries during taxi/takeoff/cruise/touchdown (i.e. the engines generators) are not detecting the correct voltage or amperage and are overloading the battery, not switching off and on as needed to charge them. But hey, we can all be armchair gumshoes when it comes to these things...

Re:Electrical Relay's (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717941)

Seems likely that you could be on the right track. I wonder if this has less to do with in flight conditions and more to do with APU and Ground power transitions because all the noted events took place close to either takeoff or landing and not in the middle of a long flight. I wonder about ambient temperature changes might be a factor too.

I can see where the transition to/from in flight and ground operations could be a lot more problematic for batteries and charging circuits due to momentary interruptions and voltage sags during a time of large temperature swings. Such transient events can be extremely difficult to design for and even more difficult to effectively test in a complex system like an airplane. Issues like this can be difficult to debug because the problems can easily be highly dependent on factors that are not readily obvious.

Boeing will eventually get this worked out. The only question is how long will it take them to fix the issue and how much will it cost in the process

Re:Electrical Relay's (1)

deadweight (681827) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717989)

The 787 is vastly more complicated than that. It does NOT float the batteries across a 28 volt bus like a car or small/medium sized aircraft. (well 14 volts for most cars..........) The generators on the engines and APU are about 230 volts AC IIRC and the batteries charge with a literal battery charger driven by the AC buses.

No problem with the battery (1)

symbolset (646467) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717411)

It's supposed to smoke and catch fire?

Re:No problem with the battery (1)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718457)

You didn't ask for a non-smoking flight.

Sum of the parts? (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717477)

we have found no major quality or technical problem' with the lithium-ion batteries

How about several (many?) minor issues that, when taken together, add up to "the problem"? Also, since at least, one of the batteries was fried almost beyond recognition (from a photo I saw), how do you know there was no problem?

Logs indicate no overcharging (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717771)

The battery charging voltages and currents are logged, the logs go to the flight recorder, and they don't indicate overcharging. [aero-news.net] There are monitoring circuit boards in the battery case, separate from the charger, which report this data. Either the charger failed in some way that caused an overcharge without the voltage sensing detecting this, or the battery itself failed.

The NTSB says they haven't found anything defective yet. The burned battery is enough of a mess that it's hard to extract much info, but they're using spectroscopy to check that the composition of the components was correct.

The grounding is necessary. The JAL aircraft at Logan only had 22 takeoff/landing cycles on it, and this has now happened twice, so the odds of further trouble are high. Over the next few days and weeks, batteries and chargers will probably be pulled from other aircraft and cycled through pressure chambers, shake tables, and hot/cold cycles in attempts to induce the failure.

Meanwhile, I suspect that there are frantic efforts at Boeing to design a replacement that doesn't use lithium-ion batteries.

Re:Logs indicate no overcharging (0)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42717901)

Yes the batterie ( bus ) voltage is monitored and stored in the FDR.
The per cell data is stored either on the pcb in the battery enclosure
or the charger.
Going by the notice that the values are unexpectedly
not available my guess is in the battery and those pcbs are toast.

Dumb design. The enclosure looks positively american.
I've never seen something so superficially designed from japanese engineers.

Re:Logs indicate no overcharging (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42719025)

Dumb design. The enclosure looks positively american.
I've never seen something so superficially designed from japanese engineers.

Thales is French [wikipedia.org] .

Brakes and wiring (3, Interesting)

Ogive17 (691899) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718035)

I know a guy who works for the company that does the braking system. One of the 787s apparently had some issues with the brakes. He said that all the issues currently happening can be traced back to the wiring.

You can take it for what it's worth but the wide array of problems plaguing this plane right now, the wire harness does make sense. Though bad design or bad manufactoring is yet to be seen.

It's the battery _and_ the circuitry that matter (1)

Danilushka (2826671) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718217)

Since all batteries in an airplane application need charging and monitoring circuits and those circuits are likely to fail from time to time, batteries that start fires when circuits fail are indeed part of the fault equation. Pushing off the blame onto just the batteries is most likely a PR strategy of Boeing's. If the circuit is essentially part of the battery without which the battery could not function, then the blame lies with the designers who used it: Boeing, not the battery manufacturer. This PR seems to me a "spin-control" by japan and their battery industry to limit the PR damage to the battery manufacturer because it is clear now that Boeing is going to layoff blame for their poor design on the battery manufacturers. The fact is these batteries should never be used in any place where their failure will have catastrophic consequences. But that was a decision Boeing engineers made, not the battery manufacturers. Let's keep the focus on the firm that designed the airplane and certainly conducted studies regarding the consequences of the failure of monitoring and charging circuitry on batteries and physical airplane integrity. I sense a Ford Pinto gas tank human cost trade-off calculus moment of truth coming. Wait for it.

Re:It's the battery _and_ the circuitry that matte (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718603)

then the blame lies with the designers who used it: Boeing,

Boeing hasn't designed any subsystems stuff for years. I'm not even certain they have any structural people left.

Boeing produces a specification and puts it out for bid. The spec probably says: 'The battery shall not burst into flames or explode.' The implementation details are left up to subcontractors.

ROHS? (1)

retroworks (652802) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718503)

http://www.electronicsweekly.com/blogs/engineering-design-problems/rohs/ [electronicsweekly.com] The replacement of leaded solder with tin-silver solder was bad for the environment (while the leaded solder was "toxic", the process to remove tin and silver - the replacements - is far more toxic, so the pollution was diverted from western controlled landfills of the future to coral mining islands of the present). But if it turns out to cause planes to drop from the sky (see concerns over "tin whiskers"), it will prove worse. I don't know that the Boeing problem is related to the ROHS circuit, but (per the link above) defense aeronautics engineers refused to comply with it based on concerns cited.

I know a good place to start (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42718581)

Just start with the parts that say: "Made in China".

Interesting tidbit (1)

SuperTechnoNerd (964528) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718709)

With all this talk of the 787 lately, I wanted to find out more about the aircraft. From Wikipedia's 787 page I found this bit rather interesting I think slashdotters would to:

"The airplane's control, navigation, and communication systems are networked with the passenger cabin's in-flight internet systems.[199] In January 2008, FAA concerns were reported regarding possible intentional or unintentional passenger access to the 787's computer networks. In response, Boeing stated various airplane protective hardware and software solutions are employed, including air gaps in places to physically separate the networks, and firewalls for software separation."

Hi our name is Anonymous, and we would like to book a flight...

BP revisited (1)

boorack (1345877) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718935)

Seems we have a BIG problem with some corporate fucks running Boeing company. They knowingly pushed flawed airplane design through FAA, influencing and bribing whoever stands their way. In order to get bonuses whey chose to ignore safety concerns overall. Human lives seem to be less valuable to than their profits and bonuses. Given that their "latest and greatest" aircraft turns out to be a flying coffin, should start avoiding Boeing crap ??

It was never the battery (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year and a half ago | (#42718857)

It was never the battery that was the problem. Now, maybe the charging system of the battery, that's a different story. But the batteries themselves were not really though to be problematic. Most lithium ion batteries will become damaged if overcharged and overheat, even much later than the original overcharging. That is technically not a problem with the battery anymore than holding a lit match to a piece of paper is a problem with the paper (unless of course the design spec says it's not supposed to happen even if mistreated this way).

good stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42719369)

wowo this is a good article good stuff slashdot

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