Engineering:Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery problems

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Short description: battery problems article of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The heavily burned battery from JA829J after it suffered thermal runaway
The Aft Electronics Bay that held the battery that caught fire
The grounded Japan Airlines 787 at Boston Logan Airport

In 2013, the second year of service for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a widebody jet airliner and several aircraft suffered from electrical system problems stemming from its lithium-ion batteries. Incidents included an electrical fire aboard an All Nippon Airways 787 and a similar fire found by maintenance workers on a parked Japan Airlines 787 at Boston's Logan International Airport. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a review into the design and manufacture of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, followed by a full grounding of the entire Boeing 787 fleet, the first such grounding since that of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in 1979.[1] The plane has had two major battery thermal runaway events in 52,000 flight hours, which was substantially less than the 10 million flight hours predicted by Boeing, neither of which were contained safely.[2]

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report on December 1, 2014, and assigned blame to several groups:[3]

  • GS Yuasa of Japan, for battery manufacturing methods that could introduce defects not caught by inspection
  • Boeing's engineers, who failed to consider and test for worst-case battery failures
  • The Federal Aviation Administration, that failed to recognize the potential hazard and did not require proper tests as part of its certification process


On January 7, 2013, a battery overheated and started a fire in an empty 787 operated by Japan Airlines (JAL) at Boston's Logan International Airport.[4][5] On January 9, United Airlines reported a problem in one of its six 787s. The wiring was located in the same area as where the battery fire occurred on JAL's airliner; subsequently, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board opened a safety probe.[6]

On January 11, 2013, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787's critical systems, including the aircraft's design, manufacture and assembly. U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood stated the administration was "looking for the root causes" behind the recent issues. The head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, said that nothing found so far "suggests [the 787] is not safe".[7] Japan's transport ministry also launched an investigation in response.[8]

On January 16, 2013, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 787 made an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport on Shikoku Island after the flight crew received a computer warning of smoke present inside one of the electrical compartments.[9][10] ANA said that there was an error message in the cockpit, citing a battery malfunction. Passengers and crew were evacuated using the emergency slides.[11] There are no fire-suppression systems in the electrical compartments holding batteries, only smoke detectors.[12]

U.S.-based aviation regulators' oversight into the 2007 safety approval and FAA certification of the 787 came under scrutiny, as a key U.S. Senate committee prepared[when?] for a hearing into the procedures of aviation safety certification "in coming weeks". However, an FAA spokesperson defended[when?] their 2007 safety certification of the 787 by saying, "the whole aviation system is designed so that if the worst case happens, there are systems in place to prevent that from interfering with other systems on the plane."[13]

On February 12, 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Aviation safety investigators are examining whether the formation of microscopic structures known as dendrites inside the Boeing Co. 787's lithium-ion batteries played a role in twin incidents that prompted the fleet to be grounded nearly a month ago."[14]

On January 14, 2014, Japan Airlines said a maintenance crew at Narita Airport discovered smoke coming from the main battery of one of its Boeing 787 jets, two hours before the plane was due to fly to Bangkok from Tokyo. Maintenance workers found smoke and unidentified liquid coming from the main battery, and alarms in the cockpit indicated faults with the power pack and its charger. The airline said no other equipment was affected by the incident. The cause was not immediately known, and the airline investigated the incident.[15] [16][17][18] Soon after this incident, The Guardian noted that "The [U.S. Federal Aviation Administration] also launched a review of the design, manufacture, and assembly of the 787 in January last year and said its report would be released last summer, but it has so far not released the report and has not responded to questions about when it will be finished."[19]

On November 13, 2017, a United Airlines Boeing 787 had a lithium-ion battery experience overheating on approach to Charles de Gaulle Airport. A spokesman for Boeing said, "the plane experienced a fault with a single cell", adding that it was not a safety of flight issue.[20]


On January 16, 2013, both major Japanese airlines ANA and JAL announced that they were voluntarily grounding or suspending flights for their fleets of 787s after multiple incidents involving different 787s, including emergency landings. These two carriers operated 24 of the 50 Dreamliners delivered to that date.[21][22] It was estimated the grounding could cost ANA over $1.1 million a day.[23]

On January 16, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive ordering all U.S.-based airlines to ground their Boeing 787s until yet-to-be-determined modifications were made to the electrical system to reduce the risk of the battery overheating or catching fire.[24] This was the first time that the FAA had grounded an airliner type since 1979.[1] The FAA also announced plans to conduct an extensive review of the 787's critical systems. The review's focus was on the safety of the lithium-ion batteries[1] that use lithium cobalt oxide(LiCoO2) as the positive electrode. These electrodes are known for their thermal runaway hazard and provide oxygen for a fire. The 787 battery contract was signed in 2005,[25] when LiCoO2 batteries were the only type of lithium aerospace battery available. Still, since then, newer and safer[26] types (such as LiFePO4) and LiMn2O4 (lithium manganate), which provide less reaction energy during thermal runaway, have become available.[27][28] The FAA approved a 787 battery in 2007 with nine "special conditions".[29][30] A battery approved by the FAA (through Mobile Power Solutions) was made by Rose Electronics using Kokam cells,[31] but the batteries installed in the 787 were made by Yuasa.[32]

Three All Nippon Airways 787 aircraft grounded at Tokyo Airport on January 27, 2013

On January 20, the NTSB declared that overvoltage was not the cause of the Boston incident, as voltage did not exceed the battery limit of 32 V,[33] and the charging unit passed tests. The battery had signs of short-circuiting and thermal runaway.[34] Despite this, on January 24, the NTSB announced that it had not yet pinpointed the cause of the Boston fire; the FAA would not allow U.S.-based Dreamliners to fly again until the problem was found and corrected. In a press briefing that day, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said that the NTSB had found evidence of the failure of multiple safety systems designed to prevent these battery problems and stated that fire must never happen on an aircraft.[35] The Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) has said on January 23 that the battery in ANA jets in Japan reached a maximum voltage of 31 V (lower than the 32 V limit like the Boston JAL 787), but had a sudden unexplained voltage drop[36] to near zero.[37] All cells had signs of thermal damage before the thermal runaway.[38] ANA and JAL had replaced several 787 batteries before the mishaps.[37] As of January 29, 2013, JTSB approved the Yuasa factory quality control[39][40][41] while the American NTSB continues to look for defects in the Boston battery.[42]

Industry experts disagreed on the consequences of the grounding: Boeing's competitor Airbus was confident that Boeing would resolve the issue[43] and that no airlines would switch to a different type of aircraft,[44] while other experts saw the problem as "costly"[45] and "could take upwards of a year."[46]

Only two U.S.-based airlines operated the Dreamliner at the time – United Airlines and American Airlines.[47] Chile's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) grounded LAN Airlines' three 787s.[48] The Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) directed Air India to ground its six Dreamliners. The Japanese Transport Ministry made the ANA and JAL groundings official and indefinite following the FAA announcement.[49] The European Aviation Safety Agency also followed the FAA's advice and grounded the only two European 787s operated by LOT Polish Airlines.[50] Qatar Airways announced it was grounding its five Dreamliners.[51] Ethiopian Air was the final operator to announce temporary groundings, of its four Dreamliners.[52]

As of January 17, 2013, all 50 of the aircraft were grounded.[52][53][54] On January 18, Boeing announced that it was halting 787 deliveries until the battery problem was resolved.[55] On February 4, 2013, the FAA permitted Boeing to conduct test flights of 787 aircraft to gather additional data.[56]


NTSB investigative hearing in April 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration decided on April 19, 2013, to allow U.S. Dreamliners to return to service after changes were made to their battery systems to contain battery fires better.[57] Japanese authorities announced they were doing the same for their airplanes.

In 2013 concern remained that the solutions put in place by Boeing will not be able to cover the full range of possible failure modes. These include problems that may arise from poor systems integration between the engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) and the battery management system.[58]

A report adopted November 21, 2014, by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that "the probable cause of this incident was an internal short circuit within a cell [cell 5 or cell 6] of the auxiliary power unit (APU) lithium-ion battery, which led to a thermal runaway that cascaded to adjacent cells, resulting in the release of smoke and fire. The incident resulted from Boeing's failure to incorporate design requirements to mitigate the most severe effects of an internal short circuit within an APU battery cell and the Federal Aviation Administration's failure to identify this design deficiency during the type design certification process." The report also made recommendations to the FAA, Boeing, and the battery manufacturer.[59]

The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau was reported to have called for Boeing to redesign the battery "beyond the recommendations from two previous investigations about the 2013 battery incidents by the Japan Transportation Safety Board (JTSB) and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)."[60] The Boeing's enclosure had to add 185 lb (84 kg) heavier, negating the lighter battery potential.[61]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Dreamliner: Boeing 787 planes grounded on safety fears". BBC News. January 17, 2013. 
  2. "Accident: ANA B788 near Takamatsu on Jan 16th 2013, battery problem and burning smell on board". The Aviation Herald. 
  3. Mouawad, Jad (December 1, 2014). "Report on Boeing 787 Dreamliner Batteries Assigns Some Blame for Flaws". The New York Times. 
  4. "Fire aboard empty 787 Dreamliner prompts investigation". CNN. January 8, 2013. 
  5. "Second faulty Boeing Dreamliner in Boston". BBC. January 8, 2013. 
  6. "U.S. Opens Dreamliner Safety Probe". The Wall Street Journal. January 9, 2013. 
  7. Topham, Gwyn (January 11, 2013). "Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be investigated by US authorities". The Guardian (London). 
  8. Mukai, Anna (January 15, 2013). "Japan to Investigate Boeing 787 Fuel Leak as FAA Reviews". Bloomberg. 
  9. "全日空B787型機から煙 乗客避難・高松空港". NHK. January 16, 2013. 
  10. "Top Japan airlines ground Boeing 787s after emergency". BBC. January 16, 2013. 
  11. "A Boeing 787 plane makes an emergency landing in Japan". BBC. January 16, 2013. 
  12. Iain Thomson (25 January 2013). "Boeing 787 fleet grounded indefinitely as investigators stumped". The Register. 
  13. "Boeing 787's battery woes put US approval under scrutiny". Business Standard. 2013-01-23. 
  14. Ostrower, Jon (2013-02-11). "Microscopic 'Dendrites' a Focus in Boeing Dreamliner Probe". The Wall Street Journal. 
  15. "Japan Airlines: Smoke seen coming from Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery". CBS News. 2014-01-14. 
  16. "Boeing 787 aircraft grounded after battery problem in Japan". BBC News. January 14, 2014. 
  17. "No damage to JAL 787 in battery incident". Flight International. January 15, 2013. 
  18. Boeing bent over for new probe as 787 batteries vent fluid, start to MELT Iain Thomson. The Register 16 Jan 2014 at 02:29
  19. "Japan Airlines Boeing 787 grounded after battery leaks and lets off smoke". The Guardian. 
  20. Christine Negroni Boeing Dreamliner's Lithium-Ion Battery Fails On United Flight To Paris. Forbes, Dec 1, 2017.
  21. "Japanese airlines ground Boeing 787s after emergency landing". Reuters. January 16, 2013. 
  22. McCurry, Justin (January 16, 2013). "787 emergency landing: Japan grounds entire Boeing Dreamliner fleet". The Guardian (London). 
  23. "Boeing Dreamliners grounded worldwide on battery checks". Reuters. January 17, 2013. 
  24. "FAA Press Release". Federal Aviation Administration. January 16, 2013. 
  25. "Thales selects GS Yuasa for Lithium ion battery system in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner". GS Yuasa. 
  26. Dudley, Brier (January 17, 2013). "Lithium-ion batteries pack a lot of energy — and challenges". The Seattle Times. "iron phosphate 'has been known to sort of be safer.'" 
  27. Dalløkken, Per Erlien (January 17, 2013). "Her er Dreamliner-problemet" (in no). Teknisk Ukeblad. 
  28. "Energy storage technologies - Lithium". Securaplane. 
  29. "Special Conditions: Boeing Model 787– 8 Airplane; Lithium Ion Battery Installation". Federal Aviation Administration / Federal Register. October 11, 2007. "NM375 Special Conditions No. 25–359–SC" 
  30. Alwyn Scott and Mari Saito. "FAA approval of Boeing 787 battery under scrutiny". NBC News / Reuters. 
  31. Supko / Iverson (2011). "Li battery UN test report applicability". NextGov. 
  32. Brewin, Bob (January 22, 2013). "A 2006 Battery Fire Destroyed Boeing 787 Supplier's Facility". NextGov. 
  33. Nantel, Kelly (January 20, 2013). "NTSB Provides Third Investigative Update on Boeing 787 Battery Fire in Boston". NTSB. 
  34. "NTSB Press Release". NTSB. January 24, 2013. 
  35. Matthew Wald; Jad Mouwad (2013-01-25). "Protracted Fire Inquiry Keeping 787 on Ground". The New York Times. 
  36. Mitra-Thakur, Sofia (January 23, 2013). "Japan says 787 battery was not overcharged". Engineering & Technology. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 Christopher Drew, Hiroko Tabuchi and Jad Mouawad (January 29, 2013). "Boeing 787 Battery Was a Concern Before Failure". The New York Times. 
  38. Hradecky, Simon (Feb 5, 2013). "ANA B788 near Takamatsu on Jan 16th 2013, battery problem and burning smell on board". The Aviation Herald. 
  39. "JTSB report JA804A" (Archive). Japan Transport Safety Board - See Japanese version (Archive) (The Japanese version is the version of record, and it prevails in case of any differences between it and the English version) and "航空重大インシデント調査報告書説明資料" (Archive).
  40. Tabuchi, Hiroko (January 28, 2013). "No Quality Problems Found at Battery Maker for 787". The New York Times. 
  41. Chris Cooper and Kiyotaka Matsuda (January 28, 2013). "GS Yuasa Shares Surge as Japan Ends Company Inspections". BusinessWeek. 
  42. Knudson, Peter (29 January 2013). "NTSB issues sixth update on JAL Boeing 787 battery fire investigation". NTSB. 
  43. "Airbus CEO 'Confident' Boeing Will Find Fix for 787" Bloomberg, January 17, 2013.
  44. Robert Wall & Andrea Rothman (January 17, 2013). "Airbus Says A350 Design Is 'Lower Risk' Than Troubled 787". Bloomberg. "'I don't believe that anyone's going to switch from one airplane type to another because there's a maintenance issue,' Leahy said. 'Boeing will get this sorted out.'" 
  45. "'Big Cost' Seen for Boeing Dreamliner Grounding" Bloomberg, January 17, 2013.
  46. White, Martha C. (January 17, 2013). "Is the Dreamliner Becoming a Financial Nightmare for Boeing?" Time (magazine) .
  47. "FAA grounding all Boeing 787s". KIRO TV. 
  48. "LAN suspende de forma temporal la operación de flota Boeing 787 Dreamliner". La Tercera. January 16, 2013. 
  49. "DGCA directs Air India to ground all six Boeing Dreamliners on safety concerns". The Economic Times. January 17, 2013. 
  50. "European safety agency to ground 787 in line with FAA". Reuters. January 16, 2013. 
  51. "Qatar Airways grounds Boeing Dreamliner fleet". Reuters. January 17, 2013. 
  52. 52.0 52.1 "U.S., others ground Boeing Dreamliner indefinitely". Reuters. January 16, 2013. 
  53. "Boeing's 787 Dreamliner". Reuters. January 16, 2013. 
  54. Boeing 787 Dreamliner: The impact of safety concerns. BBC News. January 17, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  55. "Dreamliner crisis: Boeing halts 787 jet deliveries". BBC. January 1, 1970. 
  56. "FAA approves test flights for Boeing 787". The Seattle Times. 
  57. Drew, Christopher; Mouawad, Jad (April 19, 2013). "Boeing Fix for Battery Is Approved by F.A.A.". The New York Times. 
  58. Williard, He, Hendricks, Pecht, "Lessons Learned from the 787 Dreamliner Issue on Lithium-Ion Battery Reliability" Energies 2013, 6, 4682–4695; doi:10.3390/en6094682
  59. "Accident Investigation DCA13IA037 - Boeing 787 Battery Fire". National Transportation Safety Board. 
  60. Trimble, Stephen (29 December 2014), "Japan presses Boeing to redesign 787 battery", Flightglobal (Reed Business Information),, retrieved 30 December 2014 
  61. Thierry Dubois (Jun 27, 2017). "Lithium-ion Batteries Prove Value On A350". Aviation Week & Space Technology. 

External links