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FAA grounds US Boeing 787 Dreamliners after second incident with Li-ion battery; GS Yuasa Lithium Power the manufacturer
17 January 2013
As a result of an in-flight battery incident on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner yesterday in Japan, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and to require operators to temporarily cease operations of the aircraft.
Before further flight, operators of US-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe. The FAA said it will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the US 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.
The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on 7 January 2013 and resulted in a fire. (Earlier post.)
The AD was prompted by this second incident involving a lithium-ion battery. The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on the two 787s. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment, the FAA said.
Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information. In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.
United Airlines is currently the only US airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.
Boeing selected Thales, a leading provider of onboard and ground systems for the civil aerospace market, to provide the lithium-ion battery technology, along with other systems and components for the 787. For the Li-ion system, Thales was prime contractor in association with Securaplane of the United States and GS Yuasa of Japan.
The Li-ion batteries in the Dreamliner are manufactured by GS Yuasa Lithium Power (GSYLP). Thales selected the GS Yuasa cells for the 787 in 2005. The multi-year, multi-million dollar contract was an historic first as it marked the first commercial aviation application of Li-ion technology.
GS Yuasa’s Li-ion prismatic batteries—its LVP 10-65 cells, with lithium cobalt oxide cathode materials—on the Dreamliner provided both Auxiliary Power Unit start and emergency power back-up capabilities. In the first phase of the contract, GS Yuasa delivered prototypes to Thales starting in spring, 2005; mass production started in 2007.
At the time, GS Yuasa said its Li-ion batteries offered 100% greater energy storage capacity than the existing nickel-cadmium batteries used in airliners. The battery can charge from 0 to 90% in 75 minutes and comes with battery management electronics which were intended to provide multiple levels of safety features.
At the time of the announcement of the contract with GS Yuasa in 2005, Steve Grinham, General Manager of the electrical activity of Thales, said:
Thales is determined to create the safest, most advanced, efficient and reliable power system possible for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. We are partnering with GS Yuasa because we are delighted with their battery technology. Since it is maintenance-free and has longer service life comparing to current nickel-cadmium batteries, it makes for lower operating costs and increased safety for airline companies.
In response to the FAA action, Boeing issued the following statement:
The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.
We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. 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. Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers.
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