New Investigative Report on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Li-ion Battery Fires

20130117.. Burnt Li-ion Battery B787

An NTSB picture of a charred Li-ion battery, January 2013.

In early 2013, FAA was forced to ground the entire U.S. Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, after two serious incidents in which Li-ion batteries had caught fire. Many aviation safety professionals were very impressed with the transparency and safety advocacy subsequently shown by NTSB and NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. At the same time, much of FAA’s response smacked of being a loyal waterboy for damage control efforts by Boeing and other corporations in the aviation world.

20140910.. Li-ion Battery becomes a torch

The battery design is extremely volatile. When shot during testing, it quickly became a veritable blow-torch.

FAA’s grounding of the Dreamliner went on for more than three months, and ended on 4/27/2013. In the months since, a few minor incidents have made the news, but more notably there has been a concerted effort by Boeing marketers (with assistance from FAA) to both re-shine the Dreamliner’s image AND micromanage the coverage of all incidents. Eventually, Ms. Hersman resigned her NTSB post and moved on, and Boeing stock has made more than a complete recovery. So, we wait and we hope.

If we are lucky, and if the re-configured marketing efforts were not just hype, we will not see a repeat battery fire or other problem. We will not dread the news when a  Dreamliner filled with passengers has a major failure, out over an ocean and two hours from land.

We hope.

A detailed 48-minute investigative report has been posted on YouTube. Will Jordan and an Al Jazeera team of reporters spent more than a year investigating. They talked with Whistleblowers, management, outsource ‘partners’, union officials, workers, and former DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo, but they did not talk to any FAA officials. Clay Foushee (AAE-1), as head of the office that is supposed to protect aviation Whistleblowers, would have been an extremely appropriate interview … and his name appears on a memo at around 37-minutes. But, no FAA interviews or, if they did, perhaps the answers were empty and got edited out?

Here are a few quotes and time-marks from this excellent analysis of an FAA/Boeing work culture that appears to have drifted sharply, from safety to earnings reports.

4:50 “We have a contract with Boeing, so we can’t tell any comments to you.”
7:25 “After my building burned down, after that they realized, very emphatically, the danger of this chemistry.”
9:40 “When it comes to building airplanes, the FAA delegates oversight almost completely to the aircraft manufacturers .”
10:35 “I don’t think it’s a sufficient fix. Even inside that steel box, with all of its fortification, all the elements are still there for fire.”
13:50 “…it was almost as if, at times you thought Boeing executives believed, well maybe they could sit in Chicago and have other companies do things, and they would just rake in the money somehow by putting it all together and putting a Boeing sticker on it at the end.”
16:46 “More than any other single event, it was the big lie, and it was a statement that the Boeing Company is now all about the big lie.”
21:10 “They changed basic engineering principles to meet schedule. We all protested.”
24:15 “It’s been eating me alive to know what I know, and to have no avenue, no venue to say anything.”
32:00 The John Woods Whistleblower story (5-minutes)
35:20 “…He turned to the FAA, filing a Whistleblower complaint. The document alleged seven serious violations in the South Carolina plant.” Former DoT-IG Schiavo: “I’ve gotten to the page where they reach their conclusions and the discussion and what they found was that all the allegations, all but one of them they could not substantiate, and the one that they could substantiate, they asked Boeing to fix it, Boeing said ‘OK, we fixed it’, and then they close the investigation. And that’s pretty much how they all go, I mean I’ve seen this so many times.”
37:00 “…It shouldn’t be this hard to do the right thing.”
38:30 “One day you’re regulating the airline, and the next day you’re working for it. You can’t possibly be tough on the industry that you’re regulating, because you’ll never get that plum job after you leave. The regulators at the FAA will rarely cross Boeing.. They simply won’t.”
42:30 Interview with a Boeing VP (and GM of the 787 Program) (2-minutes in, the interview was stopped by Boeing’s Communications Director, and he asked that the cameras be turned off)

Here are links to the aiReform.com Posts related to this issue:

see also:

 

Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impacts on People and the Environment

A book published last fall focuses on three areas at the heart of the aiREFORM.com website: the adverse impacts of aviation, the excessive subsidy of aviation, and the need for a transparent sharing of factual data to ensure citizens can have a meaningful say in airport growth decisions.

Author Rose Bridger lives in the UK and describes herself as a writer, campaigner and researcher. She has an interesting website, which evolved out of her interest in food supply chains. She did her own research and concluded that “…at the  consumption end (of the supply chain), we just see a cornucopia of things to buy. Its like being permanently subsumed in the contrived fairground atmosphere of a shopping  mall.” The more she researched and wrote, the more she came to the conclusion that aviation – and airports – are a critical element of this supply chain. When discussing airports, she notes:

“Expansion meets with vigorous opposition from host communities, concerned over high levels of health damaging pollutants and paving over farmland and wildlife habitats. The purported economic benefits, in particular for host communities, are doubtful. Continued aviation expansion, in the face of rising oil prices and the global economic downturn, is enabled by an extraordinary level of subsidy.”

Here are a few clips from reviews:

  • Plane Truth is an essential read for all of us who care about the environment and future generations. Flying has become as natural to most people in countries like the UK and USA as having breakfast or listening to music.  It is easy to forget that flying is helping – through climate change emissions and other forms of pollution – to destroy our world.  The air industry is a huge lobby, but Rose Bridger has produced a book that punctures their dangerous lies.” (Derek Wall)
  • Rose Bridger makes the case for an end to Government subsidies for an environmentally destructive industry.” (Post Mag)
  • “Easily one of the most comprehensive reviews of aviation’s impact on the environment, Plane Truth has all the facts required to destroy the aviation industry’s arguments for expansion.” (Plane Stupid)
  • “A treasure trove that will shock and surprise with much jaw dropping material about the rapidly expanding and much subsidized world of airports, air travel and freight and their impact on climate change, biofuel demand, and much more.” (Geoff Tansey)
Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impacts
on People and the Environment
Published by Pluto Press, October 2013

“Plane Truth is a critique of the aviation industry, addressing
the social, economic and environmental impacts.”

Contents:

Introduction
1. The Future of Flight
2. Feeding the Fuel Tanks
3. Local Environmental Impacts
4. Threats to Wildlife and Farmland
5. Green Garnish
6. Air Cargo
7. Industrial Cargo
8. Arms, Aid and Accidents
9. Concrete and Overcapacity
10. Counting the Costs
11. Real Estate and Revenue Streams
12. How Aviation Keeps Growing
Appendix
Notes
Index

The aiREPORT: [2013Q3, week-7]

aiREPORT is a weekly collection of notes and links to news items relevant to aviation impacts and FAA reform. It is provided as a research tool…

Third Quarter, Week #7: August 11 — August 17, 2013

summary:

Top AvNews story: the fatal UPS crash at KBHM. Almost as big was the filing by DoJ, seeking to stop the American – US Airways merger … which led the Judge for the American bankruptcy to say ‘whoa!’.  Background noise from the ‘aviation-equals-jobs’ contingent, perhaps timed to coincide with congressional officials back home on recess (great time to shake hands with constituents at late summer fairs).

QUICKlooks:

  • The Governor of Arkansas declared that August is ‘General Aviation Appreciation Month’. This is the latest in a series of state proclamations being generated by an NBAA.org PR campaign that provides pre-fab text used to generate photo-opportunities for elected officials.
  • GAMA organized a ‘rally’ in Albuquerque, in which aviation manufacturers are touting their contributions to the economy.
  • 8/13/13: The U.S. DoJ filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the proposed merger of American and US Airways.
  • 8/14/13: On the same day the world news was reporting hundreds killed when Egyptian officials cracked down on protesters, a commercial accident in Birmingham, AL: UPS Flight 1354 crashed at 4:49AM, one mile before the start of the runway, and two pilots died.
  • 8/16/13: a financial analyst critical of DoJ’s lawsuit against the American-USAirways merger notes that Southwest controls 93% or more of passenger flights at Chicago-Midway, Dallas-Love, and Houston-Hobby airports.
  • 8/17/13: Harris Corp. announced FAA has awarded it $150M for an ATC communications contract. The larger half of the $481M contract was issued a year ago.

Airports in the News:

  • Belmont, MS (Tishomingo County Airport, [01M]) has been awarded a $468K FAA grant to buy four parcels of land, needed to eventually extend the runway to 5,000′. The airport averages 13 takeoffs/day and is home to eleven airplanes.
  • Rogers, AR (Rogers Municipal Airport, [KROG]) is the home base for twenty corporate aircraft used by Wal-Mart. A Bloomberg article assesses the extent of public subsidy at this airport.
  • Scotts Bluff, NE (Western Nebraska Regional Airport, [KBFF]) announces FAA AIP funds will cover 90% of $1.6M in terminal and airport improvements.
  • Hudson, NY (Columbia County Airport, [1B1]) received an 8/6/13 letter from FAA advising they need to condemn part of a golf course and cut down six acres of trees adjacent to the airport. The rural airport 25-miles southeast of Albany has 29 based aircraft and a single runway that averages 27 takeoffs/day.
  • Connellsville, PA (Connellsville Airport, [KVVS]) also received a letter from FAA airport officials for non-compliance. The airport authority is working to clean up a problem of tenants using airport facilities to store trailers, rolls of artificial lawn, and other non-aviation items … which violates FAA’s rules. Non-compliant airport authorities fear legal action by FAA.

Links to Articles:

8-15-2013Aviation Experts Question Whether Culture Had Role in Asiana Crash
The problem of subservience within airline flight crews came up with the deadly KAL accident in Guam. This article analyzes that angle, and includes comments by former NTSB Chair Jim Hall.
8-15-2013Judge postpones decision on American Airlines bankruptcy exit plan
The American Airlines bankruptcy proceedings may be on hold. Judge Sean Lane listened to five hours of hearings on Thursday, but based on the DoJ lawsuit challenging the propoed merger with US Airways, he is postponing any decisions. All parties have until the end of next week to produce pleadings as to why he should not postpone. One of the isues discussed today was the propriety of giving $19.65M to American CEO Tom Horton as a golden parachute when the merger is closed. Other creditors feel this is not fair, in view of their losses.
8-13-2013American’s Horton: Court battle ‘will likely take a few months’
The American Airlines CEO is due to receive a $20M golden parachute as part of the merger with USAirways. Problem is, the airline is going through bankruptcy, and some believe this $20M payment is improper. Also, the merger is being challenged, including a DoJ lawsuit. This blog includes a copy of Mr. Horton’s ‘jetwire’ message sent to the ‘American Team’.
8-12-2013Cylinder-removal AD would increase costs, decrease safety
AOPA news article expressing opposition to FAA’s proposed AD; includes links to the proposal as listed in the Federal Register, and to the NTSB recommendations behind the AD.
ARCHIVES: 11-3-2012Lab releases global aviation emissions dataset
A global emissions dataset for civil aviation emissions is now available. The dataset contains three-dimensional gridded emissions for (scheduled) civil aviation for 2005. This dataset represents the most current estimate of global aviation emissions that is publicly available. It is intended to be of use to researchers in areas including atmospheric modeling and aviation and the environment. For example, it is currently being incorporated into the standard release of the community atmospheric chemistry-transport model GEOS-Chem. Includes a color global map showing routes, impacts. (Seed for an article?)
ARCHIVES: 3-1-2012Study released on the costs and benefits of desulfurizing jet fuel
MIT led the study, funded by FAA. Includes a world map projecting the amount of aviation impact.

The aiReport …a link to the full report…

Pee-testing for Boeing Management…?

…and a new Stainless Steel Sarcophagus.

Sometimes, when a problem develops such as a burning Li-Ion battery on the Boeing 787, months are spent engineering a solution. Why not just seal the problem inside a box? The picture on the left gives a sense of the size of the blue-boxed original battery; on the left is the new 150-pound stainless steel sarcophagus version.

Play video: 787 Battery Tests
Has this solution been tried before…

…where other technologies have failed? YES!!

It was used to contain escaping radiation after the Chernobyl reactor melted down in April 1986. Many of those responding to the emergency were irradiated (and died) in the struggle to build a massive concrete and steel sarcophagus. In truth, that shell leaks, and is rapidly disintegrating, so a new sarcophagus is being constructed nearby, and will eventually be slid into place to protect the first sarcophagus (the radiation over  the reactor was too intense and dangerous to construct in-place).

cher_photocher_image
There is a clear difference of scale…

…between the 1986 technology failure at Chernobyl and the 2012 failures on board the Boeing 787. But, Boeing’s fix does beg the question: why not just revert to NiCad battery technologies, with a safer record? After all, by adding the expensive sarcophagus, there is no longer any weight-savings. One commentor to the Seattle Times article nailed it with this:

“…i just want to get the facts clear.

based on the current decision, the management of boeing should be pee tested for drugs on a daily basis. because only someone smoking dope would make such an illogical decision.

the correct decision, since both battery options weigh the same now, would have been to use ni-cad batteries….”