Share This Page

NTSB 'weeks away' from identifying Boeing battery faults

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Investigators are “weeks away” from determining what caused battery failures on Boeing Co.'s grounded 787 Dreamliner jet, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said.

“We are going to have some information tomorrow, but I think we are probably weeks away from being able to tell people, ‘Here's what exactly happened and what needs to change,' ” Chairman Deborah Hersman said at a breakfast on Wednesday with reporters in Washington.

Hersman's comments underscore the views of regulators that a lifting of the grounding order isn't imminent. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this week that resumption of production flights or ferry flights would wait until “the investigation is done.”

Boeing asked the Federal Aviation Administration for approval to resume test flights with the 787 while grounding orders from the agency and regulators worldwide remain in place for airlines operating Dreamliners in commercial service.

LaHood, in remarks to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, declined to give a timetable for making a decision on Boeing's request or to predict a likely outcome.

Investigators are looking at each of the cells, the three windings in each of the cells and the component parts that make up the battery, Hersman said, including tests on examples of the batteries used in the jet.

The safety board is looking at “the macro level to the microscopic level on this battery,” Hersman said.

The board has evidence of short circuits in cells of the battery, “thermal runaway” and an uncontrolled chain reaction, Hersman said. “Those features are not what we would have expected to see in a brand-new battery on a brand-new airplane,” Hersman said. “We want to make sure the design is robust and the oversight of the manufacturing process is adequate.”

Hersman declined to comment on reports she will be nominated by President Obama to replace LaHood, who has said he'll leave his position once a successor is confirmed.

Regulators and Boeing are still trying to determine what caused a battery fire on one jet and a cockpit warning that spurred an emergency landing by another, which in turn triggered grounding orders worldwide on Jan. 16.

There are inherent risks in any new technology, including lithium-ion batteries, Hersman said. That doesn't mean the batteries are unsafe, she said.

The safety board understands that industry is going to come up with new materials, equipment and designs, Hersman said. At the same time, it wants to make sure manufacturers understand how the technology can fail and how to minimize any potential dangers, she said.

“That's never more important than aviation,” Hersman said. “They don't have the opportunity to pull over if there's a fire.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.