SEATTLE – KING 5 News has learned that Boeing has a serious idea in the works to deal with the problem of 787 battery fires in the future: better containment and better venting.
On January 7, a fire erupted at Boston’s Logan airport aboard a brand new JAL 787 15 minutes after landing. A lithium ion battery was on fire. The fire not only bulged out the lid on the case putting smoke and flame in the air, but damaged nearby electrical equipment up 20 inches away according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That fire in the rear electrical bay behind the wing. The battery is now under microscopic scrutiny at the Safety Board’s lab in Washington, D.C.
On January 16, the forward lithium ion battery aboard a ANA 787 on a domestic flight in western Japan began smoking. While pilots and passengers say the smoke smell could be picked up in the passenger cabin and cockpit, most of the smoke was dumped overboard through vents as Boeing designed for a worst case scenario.
But the current smoke venting plan has run into a headwind with the NTSB and even the FAA, with the grounding of the fleet of 50 Dreamliners worldwide. Is there a better way?
Sources say that Boeing is seriously considering a better containment system that solves both the collateral damage to other sensitive equipment and deals with the smoke better. The plan is to build a stronger and larger containment box or dome around the battery, and vent smoke and potential debris overboard through a hose or other channel.
Wednesday morning in an earnings conference call with stock analysts and reporters, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney did not talk about solutions, but said the company planned to stick with the controversial lithium ion batteries as the best option for the plane. He also expressed confidence that the grounding of the 787 fleet, which is now entering its third week, would not last long enough to stop Dreamliner production, and not cost enough to significantly impact earnings. In fact, McNerney said 787 production would likely increase during the year.
Boeing will only say hundreds of engineers are working around the clock to find a cause for the two battery incidents.