There are 140 Boeing 787 Dreamliners now flying with airlines across the world. Passengers love the 787’s airy, spacious cabin, its large windows and its cutting-edge entertainment technology. Last year’s problems with battery fires that caused the entire fleet of 787s to be grounded for three months seem well behind it. Or are they?
The National Transportation Safety Board is at odds with the Federal Aviation Administration over the way the 787 was cleared to fly again. The Board has raised new concerns about the way that the lithium-ion batteries used to supply power to critical systems on the 787 are tested to ensure their safety—even suggesting that more rigorous testing is needed.
In fact, lingering questions and confusion about the danger posed by the batteries point to a lack of transparency in the way both Boeing and the regulators deal with the application of new and relatively untried technologies in airplanes. The NTSB is plainly unhappy with the steps taken so far by the FAA to understand the specific risks posed by lithium-ion batteries: “Aircraft manufacturers,” says the Board, “need to evaluate whether additional requirements and testing are necessary to ensure aircraft-level safety.”
The NTSB’s investigation into the first of the two emergencies that caused the grounding of the 787, a fire in a Japan Airlines 787 while it was empty and parked at a gate at Logan International Airport in Boston on January 7 last year, is still open, even though late in April 2013 the FAA accepted Boeing’s changes to the installation of the battery system as sufficient to get the fleet back in the air.