Li-ion Battery Devices Can Ignite, If Crushed in a Seat

(click on image to read the report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB))

(click on image to read the report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB))

The concerns about Li-ion battery ignition hazards grounded the Boeing 787 fleet in 2013, and they continue to make the news. The picture above is from a new investigative report about an actual fire on a Qantas 747. A passenger misplaced an electronic device and it became crushed inside the seat mechanism, creating a hissing sound and igniting. When crewmembers arrived, they “…observed an orange glow emanating from the seat….”

The concerns are not new. The Australian report cites a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) issued by FAA in June 2009. Archived copies are linked below.


See also:
  • 9/23/2009 – archived copy of SAFO 09013 (1p)
  • 9/23/2009 – archived copy of Supplement to SAFO 09013 (2p)

Boeing Slows 787 Production Rates, to Catch Up with ‘Traveled Work’

Boeing reacted with aggressive denial of charges in the recent news investigation about the 787 Dreamliner, Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787. One charge that nobody even tries to challenge, though, is that this new aircraft has been chronically plagued with delays, even before the first prototype was ready to fly.  The delays have continued in recent months.20140918cpy.. B787's on KPAE FlightlineA new airliner is large, thus difficult to hide … and made even more difficult when ‘spotters’ are avidly pursuing their hobby. Every day, these guys watch out for new aircraft and then share their photos online. The ramp area at Paine Field in Everett is loaded with lots of 787’s, each of which will quickly be flown off when all work is finished. These aircraft are a huge investment; thus, the airlines have no interest in letting them sit for extra days at the factory ramp.

Evidently, Boeing is doing so much ‘Traveled Work’ in recent months that the local paper reports total production is down. Furthermore, some Boeing workers are sharing ‘anonymously’ that they had to work 10- and 12-hour days and on Saturdays, to fix problems. Overtime in Boeing factories is not uncommon, but workers say their workload this time has been greater than usual. The workers have to answer anonymously, because Boeing forbids its workers from speaking publicly about the program.

Here is an excerpt from one of the many insightful comments, responding to the article:

“The FAA needs to send real inspectors, from Washington D.C., not the good ol’ boys that are stationed in the area, and do a complete investigation of the program from the bottom to the top. Come talk to the hourly guys that are doing the work BEFORE they talk to the top brass. They would pull the PC700 on the 787 program in a NY minute. It is funny that the quality of work on the Everett Flightline is great at the north end, Stall 101 and 102 being the best, and by the time one gets to Stalls 108 through 201, ….they all wear hockey helmets and the product shows!”

see also:

The John Woods Whistleblower Case

20140909.. John Woods pic from AlJazeera article
At 32-minutes into Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787, the cameras reveal Starkville, Mississippi and then focus in on the story of Whistleblower John Woods. An expert in the manufacturing of composites for aviation, Mr. Woods spoke up for safety at the South Carolina Boeing plant … and he was soon fired. Click on the YouTube display below, and the video will start at the point in the video where Mr. Woods’ story begins.

Mr. Woods was employed in the private sector, but his story is entirely representative of what happens to FAA air traffic controllers, inspectors, and others who similarly speak up for safety. The fact that he is an older employee with many decades of experience is also notable; often, when FAA retaliates against their own employees, they do so to pressure them into early retirements. The pattern is this:

  1. Employee responsibly speaks up about a safety issue.
  2. The Employer is threatened, and retaliates, eventually firing employee.
  3. Employee files a Whistleblower case to higher authorities, such as to FAA’s Office of Audit & Evaluation (Clay Foushee, manager).
  4. After a lengthy delay, the higher authority concludes nothing can be substantiated and drops the case.

In the end, and often after years of delay, all the Whistleblower case processing gives the Agency or company exactly what they want and need: a cleansing of those ‘problem employees’ who have the audacity to speak up for safety. And the dismissed employees? They are each left trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered life.

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:

 

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….”