Boeing conducts a battery certification demonstration flight on an aircraft… (Boeing Co. )
The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday began a two-day investigative hearing in Washington into a fire that broke out on Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner passenger jet due to overheating in its lithium-ion battery systems.
The NTSB still hasn’t found a root cause into the fire that occurred Jan. 7 at Boston's Logan International Airport. On Tuesday, the board issued hundreds of pages of documents ahead of the hearing, which show five years of history in the development and design approval of the battery system.
FULL COVERAGE: Boeing's troubled Dreamliner
Much of the testing was left to Boeing and its battery suppliers. They determined that the likelihood of smoke or fire from a 787 battery would occur less than once in every 10 million flight hours. But there already have been two critical battery events on the 787 fleet with fewer than 100,000 flight hours.
“We are here to understand why the 787 experienced unexpected battery failures following a design program led by one of the world’s leading manufacturers and a certification process that is well respected throughout the international aviation community,” NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at the hearing.
The hearing comes just days after the Federal Aviation Administration approved a fix for the 787 fleet, which has been grounded since January. The FAA’s approval clears the way for the jet’s return to flight.
Boeing has delivered 50 787s to eight airlines worldwide, including United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier that has 787s in its fleet.
All 787s were grounded after a battery fire broke out Jan. 7 on a 787 operated by Japan Airlines at Boston's Logan International Airport and a second battery incident occurred 10 days later on an All Nippon Airways flight in Japan.
The 787's lithium-ion battery system, which is made in Japan by Kyoto firm GS Yuasa Corp., contains a cluster of eight individual cells packaged together in one box.
The 787 is the first large commercial aircraft to use the technology on such a large scale.
The FAA has been aware of the flammability of lithium-ion batteries for years. Still, when the agency was certifying the Dreamliner for flight operation, it issued special conditions for lithium-ion battery installations on the Dreamliner because regulations don't cover this technology.
Despite this, Mike Sinnett, Boeing's chief project engineer for the 787 program, said the 787 certification effort was the most extensive effort in the company’s history.
“The FAA dedicated over 200,000 hours of certification of the 787 program,” he said during the first half of Tuesday’s hearing. Testing on the battery system was “rigorous and subject to scrutiny," he said.
On Friday, the FAA said that in order for the 787 to return to flight operations, it will require airlines to install containment and venting systems for the batteries. The agency will also instruct carriers to replace the batteries and their chargers with modified components.
To make sure the work gets done, the FAA has teams of inspectors at the modification sites. The FAA said it would not let any modified 787 take to the sky until it approves the work.
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