The National Transportation Safety Board released an interim factual report and issued 499 pages of related documents in its ongoing investigation of the Japan Airlines 787 battery fire in Boston. The document is not intended to answer why the battery caught fire, but is part of the ongoing investigative process and includes reams of data.
The first 787 battery meltdown happened January 7 shortly after a Japan Air Lines 787, delivered by Boeing just weeks earlier, landed. The fire was discovered after the pilots and passengers got off, and a mechanic and a cleaning crew got on. It happened at Boston's Logan Airport. The mechanic called the fire department.
The plane landed just a few seconds after 10 a.m., according to the flight data recorder for JAL Flight 008. At around 10:04, the plane's auxiliary power unit was turned on, and 15 minutes later the recorder showed the battery tied to the APU had failed.
The 787 has two lithium-ion batteries. One in the real electrical bay works in conjunction with the APU, and can help the plane get started. Another identical battery in the forward electrical bay underneath and near the cockpit is tied in with the main electrical system and the plane's controls.
The batteries are not intended to be used in flight, but a second battery failure in Japan during a domestic flight a year later involving the main battery in front prompted the FAA to ground the jets in the U.S., which was immediately duplicated by aviation regulators world wide.
With a tiny handful of exceptions, 50 787s belonging to airlines remain grounded and Boeing cannot flight test any production airplanes in Everett and North Charleston, South Carolina, although it continues building them at a rate of five per month.
Boeing's last fully functional test airplane is also grounded. It's waiting for the FAA to green light a planned fix to the battery and a new containment and ventilation system that would severely limit any future battery smoke or fire incidents from doing damage beyond the battery itself.
KING 5 learned Wednesday that the FAA and Boeing are still negotiating how to get flight tests of the new battery and containment system airborne. A source familiar with the situation says the issue is over whether the FAA is willing to include tests Boeing's already performed toward certification. If the FAA agrees, that promises to speed up the process, but it's not known by how much. It's now looking like the FAA may not give its approval until next week.
In addition, The Wall Street Journal reports in an interview with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, that the FAA is setting a high bar for Boeing to meet in getting the fleet back into service.
The NTSB announced it will hold a forum in April to explore lithium-ion battery technology and transportation safety. A separate hearing in April will focus on the design and certification of the 787 battery system.
The information developed through the upcoming forum and the hearing will help the NTSB and the entire transportation community better understand the risks and benefits associated with lithium batteries, and illuminate how manufacturers and regulators evaluate the safety of new technology, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said.
Boeing is losing an estimated $50 million per week while all 787s worldwide are grounded, according to reports by Reuters.
Bloomberg reports that the battery supplier tightened its quality checks after Boeing sought advice from companies like Ford, General Motors and General Electric, which also use the technology.
KING 5's Travis Pittman contributed to this report