The stark realisation that the U.S. probe into battery incidents on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner may not be the quick fix and literally continue for many months. But even if a fix is found then this will still be one of the most expensive repair jobs in aviation history. US National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] and other world organisations backed by a team of industry investigators are pulling apart the troublesome Japanese made Lithium batteries, each the size of a shoebox.
Why on earth they went for Lithium-ion in the first place, no one really knows but anyone with a digital camera will tell you the performance of a lithium-ion batteries varies due to the use made of the equipment. Hoping against hope Boeing is continuing with production whilst the pathfinders for the new type remain locked up and firmly on the ground. They won't be going anywhere soon.
Some fifty Boeing 787 Dreamliners located around the world and in service with an impressive slate of operators have been grounded since Jan. 16th after an All Nippon Airways 787 made an emergency landing as one of its lithium-ion batteries melted belching smoke and an acrid smell around the passenger cabin.
The extent of the damage was seen as officials removed the batteries for further examination but unwisely failed to cover up the offending Japanese sourced battery. It later transpired that All Nippon had made frequent battery changes, but no one thought to log this as a serious failure.
Media sources claim that UDS transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is taking the opportunity to examine the whole aircraft, and not just the battery compartment. Clearly the Department are not feeling any time pressures, as this may lead to charges of rushing matters for the sake of commercial reasons. Clearly something the company and the officials do not want to happen, if confidence is to be regained.
On January 16th , the aircraft type was grounded all around the world. An All Nippon Airways 787 landed , emergency chutes/slides were deployed and all passengers exited slightly faster than they originally intended.
Most survived the experience unscathed but a few sustained a few minor injuries, and an overnight hospital stay; but in these days of digital cameras thousands of pictures and movies of the stricken aircraft were also instantly transmitted around the globe. A PR nightmare and possible oblivion for the future wellbeing of the brand..
As for Boeing opting for lithium-ion batteries, these were specifically approved by the FAA for the Dreamliner four years earlier well before the first aircraft of this type entered service. Sales of Boeing product is clearly being hit but not as deeply as many originally predicted. One reliable US analyst not known for making wild assumptions suggested sales would fall by 3 percent if the aircraft remains grounded for six months. Possibly signposting a loss of £5 billion, if the problem isn't resolved within say 10 months.
Industry heads recall that FAA allowed the McDonnell Douglas DC10 to resume flights before fully resolving a problem with ill fitting cargo doors that simply didn’t latch properly. Eventually the famous name was dropped to be replaced with a simple MD and type ie the MD80, it had a short but illustrious career with several operators including Alitalia.
But in the current context that won't be happening again. The plane maker is facing a long hard grind, and a legion of PR men will be in the front line, to win back hearts and minds, or we the paying passengers will just refuse and insurers jumping on a passing bandwagon will adjust premiums upwards accordingly. Upwards of course is a direction the 787 isn't likely to be doing this side of the Summer season. Perhaps like most new toys, they should have stated "Batteries are Extra!"
Contributor: JULIAN BRAY, Media Expert, Aviation, Politics & Travel, Economics, Broadcaster & Journalist Julian Bray NUJ Life Member, Full EQUITY Member UK Landline: 01733 345581 Mobile: 07944 217476 ISDN2 +44(0)1733 555 319 (UK HOME ISDN 01733 555319) G722/APT-X Dual Codecs SKYPE: JULIAN.BRAY.UK