June 21, 2021

Boeing 787 Catches Fire in London

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire or how serious the repercussions would be. But investors, mindful that hazards with the jet’s batteries had led to the grounding of the entire fleet from January to April, reacted nervously, sending Boeing’s shares down 4.7 percent.

Smoke came from the plane, named the Queen of Sheba, eight hours after it had been parked in a remote space at Heathrow and about four and a half hours before it was scheduled to depart for Ethiopia. No passengers were on the plane, which was connected to an external ground power source, according to people briefed on the incident.

It was also not clear if any maintenance was under way or how long the fire had been burning, though it was intense enough to burn through its carbon-composite skin on the top of the fuselage near the tail.

That area was not next to either of the plane’s new lithium-ion batteries, which caught fire or emitted smoke in two earlier incidents that led to the grounding of the first 50 787s. Unless they were charging, aviation experts said, the batteries would not have been in use if the plane were connected to ground power.

A team of British safety investigators began examining the plane shortly after the fire was put out. But no one involved — the investigators, Boeing, the airline or the airport — commented on the possible cause of the fire.

Other experts said that some of the plane’s wiring, and the oxygen systems for passengers, would have passed through the damaged area, which was above the rear galley. It was also possible the fire migrated from another part of the plane, they said.

Richard L. Aboulafia, an aviation consultant at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., said the possibilities ranged from “something pretty benign,” like a lit cigarette or a coffee machine left on, to a serious flaw in the plane’s new electrical system, which includes other innovative components besides the batteries. Or, he said, it could be something “not as easy or as terrible,” like a component that was installed incorrectly.

The Heathrow incident was not the only problem aboard a 787 on Friday. Thomson Airways, a charter airline, said that one of its Dreamliner planes traveling from Manchester Airport in England to Orlando-Sanford International Airport in Florida had to turn back “as a precautionary measure.”

The fire on the Ethiopian 787 forced Heathrow Airport to temporarily suspend arrivals and departures while fire crews responded to the incident at 4:36 p.m. local time. Once the fire was extinguished around 6 p.m., the runways reopened.

Friday’s incidents took place about two months after the 787 Dreamliners returned to the skies after being grounded over the battery problems. One of the new lithium-ion batteries caught fire on a 787 parked at a Boston airport on Jan. 7, and another began smoking in midflight nine days later, forcing a 787 to make an emergency landing in Japan.

Regulators lifted the grounding orders after Boeing came up with a plan to refit the first 50 to 60 of the new jets with more insulation between the battery cells and a new system for venting smoke or hazardous gases out of the planes. Ethiopian Airlines has four 787s, and the one that had the fire at Heathrow was the first 787 to return to service at any airline after the grounding ended.

Boeing said that while the planes were grounded, it also made changes in electrical components that had failed on occasion since the planes began to fly in late 2011.

At Heathrow, television video and photographs showed fire damage near the base of the vertical stabilizer, with fire-retardant foam having been sprayed on the area. That would be the first time a fire had burned through the 787’s carbon-composite skin, raising questions about its fire-retardant properties.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/13/business/boeing-787-catches-fire-at-heathrow.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Boeing Presents Fix for 787’s Battery Problems

Making an ardent pitch in Japan, home to two of the largest buyers of its next-generation 787 plane, Boeing said that more than 500 engineers had worked with outside experts to put in more than 200,000 hours of analysis, engineering work and tests to understand what may have caused the batteries to overheat in two aircraft in January. Those incidents prompted American and Japanese regulators to ground the 50 Dreamliners already delivered.

Michael K. Sinnett, the Dreamliner’s chief engineer, acknowledged that Boeing had not pinned down the exact cause of the overheating, and said the company might never know what, and by extension who, is responsible. A lithium-ion battery caught fire aboard a parked plane operated by Japan Airlines; another emitted smoke during an All Nippon Airways flight, forcing the jet to make an emergency landing.

The batteries are made by the Japanese manufacturer GS Yuasa of Kyoto. The Japanese have not yet ruled out that a problem other than the battery, such as a surge in current, could have caused the malfunction. But Boeing has ruled out any possibility the batteries may have been overcharged, citing measurements from instruments aboard the plane.

“We may never get to a single root cause,” Mr. Sinnett said. But he said that engineers had examined 80 potential problems that could lead to a battery fire, grouped them into four categories and designed solutions for each category.

“We looked at everything that could impact the battery,” Mr. Sinnett said, “and we applied a broad set of solutions that encompasses everything that this large team of experts believed someday could happen. And it led to a very robust solution,”

He also said that the fix, which includes a new battery enclosure made of stainless steel, was not designed to contain a fire, but to keep the battery from ever having a fire to begin with, by quickly starving any flame of oxygen.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that no fire is possible inside the enclosure,” Mr. Sinnett said. If battery were to heat up, its vaporized electrolytes would be vented directly out of the plane, he said, protecting the bay and other electronics.

He said the additional weight of the fix, about 150 pounds, was “a wash” compared with heavier batteries. The 787 is the first passenger jet that uses lithium-ion batteries, which are more powerful, easier to charge and lighter than older battery technologies. But they have also proven to be more volatile.

At the news conference in Tokyo, Boeing executives offered little in the way of self-criticism beyond an apology to Japanese airlines and customers from Ray Conner, executive vice president of the Boeing Company.

Mr. Sinnett said that in both incidents in January, the batteries performed as designed and stressed that there had been no injuries or extensive damage to the planes.

Earlier this week, American regulators approved Boeing’s plan to test its fixes.

Mr. Sinnett said that about 75 percent of Boeing’s test plans for the 787 had been approved and that 25 percent of the testing was complete. He said that he expected flights to resume in weeks, and if Boeing missed that time frame, it would “be by a little, not by a lot.”

“I get often asked whether the airplane is still safe,” Mr. Sinnett said. “My answer is ‘absolutely.’ I’d gladly have my family fly in this airplane.”

Japanese authorities must also approve Boeing’s fix and its test results. The Japanese transport minister, Akihiro Ota, said Friday morning it was too soon to say when Tokyo might allow the Dreamliners back in the air.

“We will work closely with the F.A.A. to examine and confirm the safety of the aircraft,” Mr. Ota said. “The tests are only beginning.”

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Jad Mouawad from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/15/business/boeing-presents-fix-for-787s-battery-problems.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Safety Board Reports Little Progress in 787 Inquiry

The report reiterated statements by Deborah Hersman, the board’s chairwoman, who told reporters last month that the problems seemed to have originated in the battery, when one of the eight cells had a short circuit and the fire spread to the rest of the cells.

While the safety board plans to continue its investigation, it said it would also hold a hearing on the hazards of the new lithium-ion batteries next month.

Meanwhile, federal officials said Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration was close to approving tests of Boeing’s approach to fixing the batteries on its 787 jets, and the tests could begin next week.

Boeing officials said they had identified the most likely ways in which the batteries could fail. They contend that the changes would minimize the odds of future incidents and protect the plane and its passengers if a problem does arise.

The F.A.A. could still demand changes in Boeing’s proposed new battery design if problems develop in the laboratory and flight tests, which will take several weeks. But the decision to start the tests will be a major step in Boeing’s efforts to get the jets, which have been grounded since mid-January, back in the air.

The federal approvals are expected late this week or early next week, even though some battery specialists remain concerned that investigators have not found the precise cause of two incidents in which the jetliner’s new lithium-ion batteries emitted smoke or fire.

The plan is still subject to approval by Michael P. Huerta, the head of the F.A.A., and Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, who will be briefed on it over the next several days.

Mr. LaHood said in January that the planes “won’t fly until we’re 1,000 percent sure they are safe to fly.” Department officials said Mr. LaHood and Mr. Huerta had been kept informed of the details of the proposal as it was created, and they are expected to sign off on it.

Under the plan, Boeing proposed adding insulation among the eight cells in the battery to minimize the risk of a short-circuit cascading through most or all of them. The company also proposed adding systems to monitor the temperature and activity in each cell. It would enclose the batteries in sturdier steel boxes to contain any fire, and it would create tubes to vent hazardous gases outside the plane.

The 787 is the first commercial airplane to use large lithium-ion batteries for major flight functions.

Boeing has delivered 50 787s to eight airlines, and officials said it could install new batteries in them quickly once a new design was approved. The company has much at stake with the plane, which is the first commercial jet to be built mostly out of lightweight composite materials. Boeing has orders for 800 more of the planes.

Aviation analysts said the plan would probably protect against the main problem that the safety board has identified, a short-circuit in one of the cells that can trigger a chemical reaction that leads the battery to overheat.

But investigators in Japan have suggested that something else may have caused the battery on an All Nippon Airways 787 to emit smoke on a flight on Jan. 16. They said the battery may have been hit by a surge of electrical current from another part of the plane.

Donald R. Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the Japanese data suggested that temperatures might have shot much higher in that battery than in the one on the plane in Boston. If that is true, he said, Boeing and the F.A.A. might need to add more steps to the safety plan to guard against such possibilities.

The safety board is also looking into how the F.A.A. certified the plane and the batteries as safe in 2007 when Boeing’s design and testing then were clearly deficient.

Ms. Hersman said last month that Boeing’s original tests showed no indication the batteries could erupt in flame and concluded that they were likely to emit smoke less than once in every 10 million flight hours.

Once the planes were placed in service, though, the batteries overheated and emitted smoke twice, and caused one fire, after about 50,000 hours of commercial flights.

Raymond L. Conner, the president of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, said this week that industry and academic researchers had learned much since then about the volatile batteries. Other company officials said Boeing would also incorporate what it learned from the two recent incidents into its new tests.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/business/safety-board-reports-little-progress-in-787-inquiry.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

F.A.A. Will Allow Crew-Only 787 Flight

Federal regulators said on Wednesday that they had approved one flight of a Boeing 787, with a flight crew but no passengers, as the company’s engineers study possible changes to the plane’s electrical systems that could reduce the risk of another battery fire.

The flight would be the first for a 787 since aviation authorities grounded the innovative aircraft last month after two incidents with its lithium-ion batteries. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would let Boeing return one 787 from a painting plant in Fort Worth to its plant near Seattle. It has not yet approved flights to conduct tests on the batteries.

The flight, scheduled for Thursday, will come as the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to raise questions about how the F.A.A. certified the 787’s battery before it began flying passengers in 2011. The safety board, which has been performing tests of its own as part of its investigation into the battery problems, is seeking to find out why weaknesses with the batteries were not picked up in Boeing’s original testing program.

The safety board is looking at whether the F.A.A. fully understood any potential issues with the volatile new batteries before it approved their use under special conditions.

Deborah Hersman, the safety board’s chairman, told reporters on Wednesday that it would probably take investigators several more weeks to determine what had happened with the Boeing batteries.

Boeing engineers are working on a range of possible technical overhauls. These include making the battery cells more resistant to shocks to keep excess heat from spreading from one cell to another, causing the kind of thermal runaway that occurred in the two recent events. Boeing officials have said they are also working on building more solid containment cases and better venting mechanisms in the event of overheating.

None of this has been tested or approved yet, a process that could take months. And until more is known about the cause of the recent incidents, the grounding order is unlikely to be lifted soon.

The 787 is the first commercial airplane to use large lithium-ion batteries for major flight functions. All 50 of Boeing’s 787s that were delivered to airlines have been grounded since mid-January.

“I would not want to categorically say that these batteries are not safe,” Ms. Hersman said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “Any new technology, any new design, there are going to be some inherent risks. The important thing is to mitigate them.”

Boeing officials said that they were exploring numerous ways to strengthen the batteries and that it was premature to think any of those would be approved by regulators without more information.

Boeing officials said they remained confident that they could keep using the lithium-ion batteries, and they hoped that finding a way to strengthen the batteries might allow them to do so. But officials said the company also had a team of engineers working on alternatives involving more conventional batteries in case regulators banned them.

Boeing picked the new lithium-ion technology because it provided more power than traditional batteries of the same size. But battery experts have questioned their use because, under certain conditions, they can overheat and ignite.

The F.A.A.’s decision to certify the batteries has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. While the federal regulator is stretched thin with too few inspectors, and typically relies on testing data from Boeing, lithium batteries are an area where the agency has some expertise. It has had to deal for years with fires involving lithium-ion batteries shipped as cargo or carried by passengers in their computers or cellphones.

Ms. Hersman will provide an update on Thursday on the investigation’s process. But while she said the safety board was in a position to rule out some problems, it was unlikely to be able to say what happened for some time.

She said that she would not rule out the use of lithium batteries “categorically,” but insisted that the safeguards Boeing had put in place failed when a Japan Airlines plane experienced a fire while parked at Logan Airport in Boston.

“Obviously what we saw in the 787 battery fire in Boston shows us there were some risks that were not mitigated, that were not addressed,” she said. She added that the fire was “not what we would have expected to see in a brand-new battery in a brand-new airplane.”

The safety board, she said, was also examining the special conditions the F.A.A. ordered Boeing to follow in using the batteries and whether they should have been updated later.

The F.A.A.’s conditions were fairly general, and they required Boeing to create the means to contain any fire or vent any smoke to keep it from spreading into the cabin and putting the plane at risk if a battery failed.

“What happens is that when an aircraft is certified it basically gets locked into the standards that were in existence at the time,” Ms. Hersman said.

The fleet’s grounding is not affected by the one-time F.A.A. permit and no one except crew members will be allowed on board the plane from Fort Worth. The plane, which still belongs to Boeing, was scheduled to be delivered to China Southern Airlines.

The F.A.A. said that before takeoff, the Boeing crew should perform a number of inspections to verify that the batteries and cables showed no signs of damage. While airborne, the crew must also “continuously monitor the flight computer for battery-related messages, and land immediately if one occurs,” the F.A.A. said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/business/faa-to-allow-a-787-flight-with-crew-only.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Panasonic to Cut 17,000 Jobs

Panasonic, the biggest Japanese maker of consumer electronics, announced a major reorganization Thursday under which it will cut thousands of jobs as it adapts its business to a changing global environment and absorbs recent acquisitions.

It will streamline operations along three main lines, down from five, and said it would cut about 17,000 jobs over the next two years from its work force of 367,000, which is already down from the 385,000 people it employed at the end of March 2010. The reorganization will cost about ¥160 billion, or $2 billion, the chief executive of Panasonic, Fumio Ohtsubo, said in Osaka, where the company is based.

The company, formerly known as Matsushita Electric Industrial, is restructuring to compete with South Korean and Chinese rivals in an industry that is increasingly focusing on emerging markets. It is also eliminating redundancies caused by its acquisitions of Sanyo Electric and Panasonic Electric Works, which were completed this year.

Already facing sluggish demand in Japan, its biggest market, Panasonic said the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the Japanese coast north of Tokyo on March 11 had further dimmed the domestic outlook.

Mr. Ohtsubo said he expected the restructuring to contribute ¥60 billion ultimately to Panasonic’s annual operating profit, largely from increased sales of solar cells, lithium-ion batteries, LED lighting and air-conditioning equipment.

Panasonic has a goal for sales of ¥9.7 trillion for the business year that ends March 2013. It said Thursday that its sales in the year through March 31 rose 17 percent, to ¥8.69 billion, though results were enhanced by the inclusion of Sanyo Electric’s sales. It reported net profit of ¥74 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of ¥103.5 billion.

“The job cuts are really about eliminating duplication, said Yoshiharu Izumi, an analyst in Tokyo for J.P. Morgan Securities. “For example, Panasonic and Sanyo both produce washing machines. They want to consolidate that. They bought Sanyo for its batteries and solar-cells businesses, they don’t need some of the other parts.”

Panasonic bet heavily on plasma display panel technology and now ranks as the world’s top maker of the devices. But two South Korean rivals, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, and a Japanese rival, Sony, embraced the more popular LCD display technology.

The market for flat-panel display televisions, is approaching saturation in the developed world, Mr. Izumi noted, and the industry is looking more to India and China in search of profits.

Panasonic said it would increase purchases of LCD panels from outside vendors and increase production overseas. It also plans to overhaul its semiconductor business to reduce its reliance on large-scale integrated circuits.

Price competition in consumer electronics, always intense, has only gotten harder for Japanese manufacturers as the yen has strengthened. A stronger yen reduces profit earned overseas.

The dollar has fallen nearly 25 percent against the yen since the start of 2008, but even more tellingly, the Korean currency, the won, has lost about 35 percent of its value over the same period, giving the Seoul-based manufacturers a critical advantage even as their reputation for quality has come to equal that of their Japanese rivals.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/29/technology/29panasonic.html?partner=rss&emc=rss