News Column

Dreamliner Battery Scrutinized

Jan. 21, 2013

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

Federal investigators announced Sunday that the battery that caught fire in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner this month in Boston didn't get more power than it was supposed to, but they are continuing to inspect the battery, its wiring and other components to determine what went wrong.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the lithium-ion battery aboard the Japan Airlines flight never exceeded its design voltage of 32 volts during its flight Jan. 7.

The battery provides auxiliary power for the innovative plane, which uses more battery power than typical jetliners.

Concerns about the batteries grounded all 50 Dreamliners worldwide Jan. 16.

Boeing is working with the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the root of the problem and get the jet back in the air.

Investigators have X-rayed and done a CT scan on the battery. They have divided the battery into its eight cells, and three of the cells were selected for closer examination.

Investigators plan more tests on the battery's charger Tuesday at the Tucson headquarters of manufacturer Securaplane Technologies. Investigators have developed test plans for components of the aircraft that work with the batteries, and they removed wire bundles and battery-management circuit boards.

"Potentially there could be some other charging issue," says Kelly Nantel, an NTSB spokeswoman. "We're not prepared to say there was no charging issue."

John Goglia, a former NTSB board member and aviation safety expert, says it's possible a charging problem caused the battery failure in Boston and on an All Nippon Airways flight that made an emergency landing in Japan on Jan. 16.

"The battery is like a big sponge," Goglia says. "You can feed it with an eye dropper, or you can feed it with a garden hose. If allowed, it will soak up everything it can from the garden hose until it destroys itself."

The two Japanese airlines grounded 24 Dreamliners on Jan. 16 because of the battery problems.

Later that day, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the six Dreamliners of United Airlines, and other countries around the world stopped flying their jets, too.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday that the batteries seem to be the main problem and that the jets won't fly again until regulators can be certain they are safe.

"Those planes aren't flying now until we have a chance to examine the batteries," LaHood said outside a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

He said he couldn't say how long the review might last or when Dreamliners would fly again.

Contributing: The Associated Press

(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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