Dreamliner Battery Fire Origin Found, But Questions Still Remain

The source of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery fire has been found, though questions still remain. Safety investigators announced on Thursday that the short-circuit in the lithium-ion battery was not the cause of the fire.

Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spoke during a press conference on Thursday. She stated that the Federal Aviation Administration should reconsider allowing Boeing to use the battery aboard its aircraft.

USA Today reports that Boeing’s initial testing of the lithium-ion battery showed that it can be expected to smoke once every 10 million miles of flying.

However, two battery problems have presented themselves in the first 100,000 hours of flying. Because of this, Hersman believes the nine special conditions that the FAA set on Boeing to use the brand new battery should be reconsidered. She added:

“The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered. We know that some of the assumptions that were made to make sure they didn’t have a smoke event were not met, much less a fire event.”

The announcement by Hersman lends credence to the idea that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will not take to the skies with passengers in the near future. CNN notes that Hersman’s statements also cast doubt on the government’s certification process for approving new airline technology.

Thursday’s briefing occurred at the same tine as Boeing flew a Dreamliner on a one-time, special flight from Fort Worth, Texas to Boeing facilities in Everett, Washington. The flight was approved by the FAA with a skeleton crew. Crew members monitored the battery without incident and a Boeing fire truck was present for the plane’s arrival.

While investigators have discovered a short circuit in cell six of the lithium-ion that caught fire on January 7 in Boston, they are not sure what caused the cell to short out in the first place. They have so far ruled out mechanical “impact” damage and short-circuiting outside the battery.

Several other possibilities are being considered. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was meant as an engineering marvel and the first aircraft of its kind. It was made with composite materials and carries the first-ever lithium-ion battery for a commercial plane. Currently, all 50 Dreamliners in service have been grounded worldwide.

[Image by José A. Montes (Flickr: Boeing 787 Dreamliner N787BX) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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