Safety regulators have grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners until issues concerning the lithium-ion batteries and chargers have been addressed. Battery problems forced an emergency landing of a Dreamliner in Japan earlier this month. That incident followed a battery fire after a 787 landed in Boston. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is broadening the scope of its investigation into the electrical problems of the Boeing aircraft.
According to All Nippon Airways Co., the lithium-ion batteries or chargers were changed 10 times prior to the incident that led to the emergency landing. The majority of 787 Dreamliners in service are flown by Japanese airlines. The battery changes were not reported earlier because they did not lead to cancellations or delays. The company further acknowledged that there were more than 100 units that failed and were returned to the manufacturer prior to the two January incidents.
The widening of the probe likely means that the 787 will not be put back into use in the short term. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all 787 Dreamliners on January 16. The FAA had not been forced to ground an entire aircraft for more than 30 years. The FAA order requires Boeing and the airlines flying 787s to prove that the batteries are safe before the 787 will again be cleared to fly. At this point, the NTSB investigation has not revealed the cause of the battery failures.
Boeing stated that the batteries that have been returned were not returned for safety concerns. A spokesperson indicated that batteries were returned because they had been deeply discharged, improperly disconnected or had simply exceeded their shelf life.
Source: Bloomberg, “Boeing Batteries Said to Fail 10 Times Before Incident,” by Alan Levin and Chris Cooper, 30 January 2013