Image: Getty Images
Boeing invested an estimated $25 billion in developing the 787—introducing radical changes in materials and a component-sourcing strategy that was to bring efficiencies for the aircraft-maker and airlines. The grounding of the aircraft raises doubts about these decisions.
1. Critical Decision 1: Lithium-ion
The fact that lithium batteries can overheat and ignite if improperly charged or discharged, is well known. Yet, the batteries are lighter, more efficient than other options like nickel-cadmium (Ni-cad) or lead acid. They allowed the 787’s control systems to be powered by electric motors, compared to less efficient hydraulic systems.
A. Had it been tried before?
In 2011, the US aviation regulator, FAA (Federal Airworthiness Authority) forced business jet maker Cessna to replace Li-ion batteries on its new model CJ4. It was replaced by Ni-cad. However, Cessna plans to qualify Li-ion batteries for use in its new aircraft still being developed.
Check out our Festive offers upto Rs.1000/- off website prices on subscriptions + Gift card worth Rs 500/- from Eatbetterco.com. Click here to know more.
(This story appears in the 22 February, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
There is no doubt that the Li-ion batteries have caused a real serious concern to Boeing and the users of 787. The airlines which have already placed firm orders are also in no good state, since they would have made other associated plans which would be costing them dear. In view of the severe financial loss being faced by the airlines , why cannot boeing step into some kind of modification to release the aircraft for flights and the investigations on the original battery can continue. This will mitigate the financial loss being faced by the airlines and also boeing.on Feb 15, 2013
Girish, It is probably impossible for Boeing to figure on a quick-fix patch to the problem. The FAA and JAA are closely involved- and any solution will have to be approved by them. Moving back to Ni-Cad batteries would mean making so many related modifications, that would need even more time on the ground. It was a risk that sadly did not paid off. As things stand now, they will have to find ways to make the Li-ion system safer.on Feb 18, 2013
Boeing executives misled regulators in Japan and the United States. In The development history of the 787's charging system and battery is shrouded in fire, lawsuit and controversy. In November 2006, a devastating fire and explosion at the plant which makes the charging system leveled a three story building at Arizona manufacturer Securaplane. Whistleblower lawsuits filed since then have shown a deep history of malfeasance and disingenuous conduct on the part of Boeing executives in their rush to overcome program delays and bring ths 787 into service. Much more to this story than meets the eye; the good people at Boeing who worked hard to bring the Dreamliner to fruition deserve to see the aircraft reach its potential as the breakthrough it is.on Feb 11, 2013