Thursday, May 9, 2013

US NTSB Orders Scans Of Boeing 787 Batteries

The damaged battery taken from a Japan Airlines Boeing 787.
The lithium-ion batteries used in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner are to be x-ray scanned to help investigators select what caused them to overheat and in case catch fire.

The scans, scheduled to start this week, are not expected to delay the resumption of passenger flights on the high-tech jet. Airlines are phasing the 787 back in to schedules over the next six weeks after the failure of batteries grounded the fleet in January.

The National Transportation Safety Board has hired a Maryland contractor to work weekends to scan up to six batteries in an hard work to "avoid potential future accidents involving this type of aircraft battery," the agency said. The batteries have not been installed in aircraft and must be shipped to the company as dangerous materials.

The urgent request allows the NTSB to hire a specific company to perform the scans quickly, than putting the work out to bid. The NTSB said it doesn't reflect any unusual urgency or shift in the inquiry.

"There's nothing that is changed," said Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman. "Our investigations are by their nature urgent."

Still, the hiring of a contractor to closely examine both tested and untested cells provides further detail about an inquiry that has drawn worldwide attention since the whole fleet of 50 Boeing planes was grounded on January 16, after a second battery overheated on a flight in Japan.

The NTSB has published hundreds of pages of findings about the Boston fire, and conducted rounds of hearings last month. It is expected to recommend changes to the Federal Aviation Administration when it concludes the inquiry, likely by the finish of the year.

Boeing said it is fully supporting the NTSB inquiry and working with customers to put in a redesigned battery method and return 787s to passenger service.

Chesapeake, based in Maryland, declined to comment. The company's net site says it's a sophisticated method to take detailed x-ray pics and assemble them in to a three-dimensional picture.

The NTSB gave notice on Friday that it was hiring Chesapeake Defense Services to perform computed tomography (CT) and digital radiograph (DR) scans on up to 48 cells. Each battery has eight cells. Both techniques use x-rays to peer inside materials.

The NTSB said that as part of its inquiry, it also designs to perform "tear-down examinations" of the 787 batteries. It wishes the cells carefully scanned to reveal as much as feasible about them before they are disassembled. The scans will look at batteries before and after they have been put through check conditions.

The batteries are not used for main flight functions aboard the 787, but serve as backup power sources and are used to start an auxiliary generator that runs on fuel.

After the incidents, Boeing added more safeguards, including a steel enclosure that it says will prevent a battery from catching fire. The FAA approved the changes last month, lifting the flight ban that lasted over months and cost airlines and Boeing millions of dollars.

Boeing says that in both incidents, the existing fail-safe method worked. There was no loss of life or significant injury in either incident.
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