Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Passengers will decide if Dreamliner flys

  • Print

 

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was cleared to fly last Thursday. The Federal Aviation Administration lifted a ban on passenger flights that it imposed in January after two battery malfunctions in the new jets raised serious safety concerns. The FAA approved Boeing’s plan to modify the 787 battery system and flights are expected to resume within days.

So, the FAA says the Dreamliner is safe. But will travelers buy that? We think so. Here’s why.

The innovative, fuel-efficient Dreamliner ran into trouble because it is the first passenger jet to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries. Those batteries, widely used in laptops and cellphones, have a history of occasionally overheating. When Boeing designed the aircraft, the company and its suppliers devised a series of tests to ensure the battery system would be safe for flight. The tests, done under the oversight of the FAA, suggested the planes could go for millions of hours without encountering any battery problem.

In practice, however, problems occurred not long after the Dreamliner entered service. An empty plane parked on a runway in Boston filled with smoke. A plane full of passengers in Japan had to be evacuated.

So it was back to the drawing board. Boeing, its suppliers, federal regulators and their global counterparts developed new tests to figure out what caused the batteries to fail. Boeing hired battery experts from outside the aviation industry to evaluate the testing procedures and propose solutions.

The exact cause of the battery failures never was identified. When complex systems fail, it can be difficult to pinpoint a simple reason. Boeing, though, developed a way to protect the passengers and the planes.

The company redesigned the battery system so if one cell short-circuited, others would not. Short circuits are the most likely reason that an undamaged battery would overheat. Boeing also added high-grade insulation between cells so overheating in one part of the battery would not spread to other parts.

Perhaps most important from the passenger standpoint, Boeing encased the battery system in a sealed steel enclosure, vented outside the aircraft. So even if a battery failure occurred, the aircraft wouldn’t be damaged. Smoke or fire would not spread.

As part of the testing, according to news reports, Boeing went so far as to simulate explosions inside the steel case. The enclosure is so secure that passengers would not notice if a failure occurred. The aircraft doesn’t rely on the batteries to stay in the air.

These incidents were alarming, but no one was hurt. The damage to the aircraft was isolated in the battery compartment.

The credibility of Boeing, the FAA and the airlines that fly the Dreamliner is on the line. A battery problem that damaged a plane or created a safety threat would be a huge blow to the airline industry. There’s a big incentive to get this right.

Investors have shown confidence. Boeing’s stock has jumped this year, despite the widely reported troubles.

The airlines have shown confidence, too. Despite the grounding of the fleet and the delays in deliveries, airlines did not cancel the hundreds of orders they placed for the Dreamliner.

Who’s left to convince? The people who fill the seats.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Mayor Bowman reacts to Caspian investigation

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that former cabinet minister Theresa Oswald has entered the NDP leadership race, do you believe the "gang of five" rebel ministers were right to publicly criticize Premier Greg Selinger's leadership?

View Results

Ads by Google