Thursday, April 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Lithium batteries central to Boeing’s 787 woes

WASHINGTON — Lithium batteries that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires have emerged as the chief safety concern involving Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a problem that apparently is far more serious than government or company officials acknowledged less than a week ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration late Wednesday grounded Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jetliner until the risk of battery fires is resolved. The order applies only to the six Dreamliners operated by United Airlines, the lone U.S. carrier with 787s. Other airlines and civil aviation authorities in other countries quickly followed suit.

Japan’s two largest air carriers voluntarily grounded their 787s on Wednesday ahead of the FAA’s order following an emergency landing by one of the planes in Japan. On Thursday, the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered all European carriers to ground the jetliner. The Indian government ordered Air India to ground its fleet of six Boeing 787s, and Ethiopian Airlines grounded its four 787s “for precautionary inspection.”

Only hours before the FAA issued its order, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterated to reporters that he considers the plane safe and wouldn’t hesitate to fly one. LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta unequivocally declared the plane safe at a news conference last week even while they ordered a safety review of the aircraft.

However, as details emerged of two battery failures only 10 days apart, it became apparent that the FAA wouldn’t be able to wait for completion of its safety review before taking action. An inspection of the All Nippon Airways 787 that made an emergency landing in western Japan found that electrolytes, a flammable battery fluid, had leaked from the plane’s main lithium-ion battery. Investigators found burn marks around the damage. Japan’s Kyodo News agency quoted transport ministry investigator Hideyo Kosugi as saying the liquid leaked through the electrical room floor to the outside of the aircraft.

In the first battery incident on Jan. 7, it took firefighters 40 minutes to put out a blaze centered in an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787. The plane was empty of passengers shortly after landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

The two incidents resulted in the release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke, the FAA confirmed. The release of battery fluid is especially concerning, safety experts said. The fluid is extremely corrosive, which means it can quickly damage electrical wiring and components. The 787 relies far more than any other airliner in operation on electronics to function rather than hydraulic or mechanical systems.

The electrolyte fluid also conducts electricity, so as it spreads it can short circuits, interfere with electrical signals and make control of the plane impossible for pilots and ignite fires. And its corrosiveness raises concern about whether a leak might weaken a key support structure of the plane, even though the 787 is the first airliner to be made primarily from lightweight composite materials that are less susceptible to corrosion than aluminum, safety experts said.

“Anytime you have leakage of battery fluid it’s a very serious situation,” said Kevin Hiatt, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va., which promotes global airline safety.

The fluid leak identified in the Japanese airline plane was a “very significant finding,” said John Goglia, an expert on aircraft maintenance and a former National Transportation Safety Board member.

“There are all kinds of possibilities,” Goglia said. “They need to go in and take a look at it. I guarantee you everybody’s doing that.”

The 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries to help power its energy-hungry electrical systems. The batteries charge faster and can be better molded to space-saving shapes compared with other airplane batteries.

“Unfortunately, what Boeing did to save weight is use the same batteries that are in the electric cars, and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the problems that have shown up in electric cars,” said Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University.

The lithium-ion batteries in several Chevrolet Volts used for crash-testing caught fire in 2011. General Motors engineers eventually figured out that the fires were the result of a battery coolant leak that caused electrical shorts after side-impact crash tests. GM retrofitted the car with more steel to protect the battery. No fires were ever reported on real-world roads.

Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, said the company is working with the FAA to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity,” he said in a statement. “We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787′s safety and to return the airplanes to service.”

Mike Sinnett, chief engineer on the 787, said last week that the plane’s batteries have operated through a combined 1.3 million hours and never had an internal fault. He said they were built with multiple protections to ensure that failures “don’t put the airplane at risk.”

The lithium-ion design was chosen because it’s the only type of battery that can take a large charge in a short amount of time. Rechargeable lithium batteries are most widely used to power consumer electronics such as laptops and cell phones. But they are also known to short-circuit and start fires that burn extremely hot and are difficult to put out.

Shipments of lithium batteries are suspected of causing or contributing to the severity of fires that caused two cargo jets to crash since 2010.

Sinnett said Boeing has long been aware of possible problems with lithium batteries. However, he said Boeing had designed the plane with special safety precautions to prevent a possible battery fire and to contain a fire to a small area should one occur.

Neither GS Yuasa Corp., the Japanese company that supplies the batteries for the 787, nor Thales, which makes the battery charging system, would comment on the recent troubles.

Boeing and its customers will need to move quickly to resolve the problem. The aircraft maker has booked orders for more than 800 of the planes from airlines around the world attracted by its increased fuel efficiency.

The FAA order had airlines, flight crews and passengers scrambling to figure out what to do next. Stanislaw Radzio, the captain of a LOT Polish Airlines 787 that landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago late Wednesday, told The Associated Press he wasn’t sure when the plane would be heading back to Poland.

“We’re grounded like everyone else,” he said. “We are very unhappy with the situation.”

He said he was told of the FAA decision during the flight from Warsaw. A captain and flight instructor at the Polish airline since 1999, Radzio said the 787 is the nicest plane he’s ever flown.

A passenger on the flight, Taras Dukyn, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he was surprised when told of the grounding by reporters, but would be willing to fly the aircraft again if the problems were fixed.

“It’s a really nice plane. Computers in every chair. It was comfortable, although I was a little hot,” he said.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Supervisor candidates square off at forum

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 7 Comments | Gallery

 
Carli takes oath, now Vacaville’s 14th police chief

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Huge jump in Solano median home price

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A1, 5 Comments | Gallery

Donate a car, help build a house

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Solano DA hosts workshop to fight human trafficking

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3, 4 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Fairfield town hall on crime delayed

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4, 5 Comments

Railway museum offers wine-tasting rides

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

 
 
Drugs topic of cardiac class

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

Weather for April 17, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B12

 
Fairfield police log: April 15, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: April 15, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Fairfield police log: April 14, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun Police log: April 14, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Armed robber was never told to report to prison

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Body of California man who jumped into river found

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Lost sea lion in California found mile from water

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Seabird from Atlantic spotted on Alcatraz

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Ex-Bell city leader gets 12 years in prison

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
California delays decision on protecting gray wolf

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Court rules for environmentalists in water fight

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Governor calls special session on rainy day fund

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Denver police eye 911 response time after killing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
Man charged with marathon hoax is held on bail

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Geneva talks on Ukraine face steep hurdles

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Pro-Russian insurgents seize armored vehicles

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Ferry sinks off South Korea; 6 dead, 290 missing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
NATO ups military presence amid Russian threat

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

.

Opinion

In support of Pam Bertani

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 7 Comments

 
Parenting demands responsibility

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

 
Let’s stop Fairfield’s future thugs

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11, 8 Comments

Obamacare news you probably missed

By Martin Schram | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 17, 2014

By Kim Durbin | From Page: A11

.

Living

A lesson in household budgeting

By Chris Erskine | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 17, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Community Calendar: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Horoscopes for April 17, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

 
.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Daniel Radcliffe on why New York audiences rock

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Alicia Silverstone out with book ‘Kind Mama’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Jenny McCarthy announces engagement on ‘The View’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Ailing Malcolm Young taking break from AC/DC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Disney Channel’s ‘Jessie’ breaks romantic ground

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Vacaville’s Peralta to wrestle at San Francisco State

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

 
Angels beat A’s 5-4 on Iannetta’s HR in 12th

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

MEL, SCAC tangle in hoops all-star games

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1

 
Sharks take goalie questions into rematch vs Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Crawford’s 41 points leads Warriors over Nuggets

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

IndyCar driver Saavedra fined $10K

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sandoval’s single lifts Giants past Dodgers, 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Officer: Sharper’s DNA found on 1 Arizona victim

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Jets sign former Titans RB Chris Johnson

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Spieth ready for more after Masters success

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Backup QB Matt Flynn returns to Packers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Atlanta lands MLS expansion team for 2017

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Bucks owner Herb Kohl reaches deal to sell team

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Sidney Rice agrees to terms with Seahawks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Goodwin helps Suns to 104-99 win over Kings in finale

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
.

Business

Yellen: Fed stimulus still needed for job market

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Some exempted from minimum wage, increased or not

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Fed survey: Growth picks up across most of US

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Bank of America posts loss, hurt by legal charges

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

IBM posts lower 1Q earnings amid hardware slump

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Google’s 1Q earnings disappoint as ad prices slip

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9