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Boeing bent over for new probe as 787 batteries vent fluid, start to MELT

Smoke without fire

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The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced a new investigation after the batteries in a Japanese Boeing 787 started smoking and partially melted.

On Tuesday a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Japan Airlines was parked at Tokyo's Narita airport when a battery pack began emitting white smoke and a mechanic discovered one of the lithium ion cells had vented its fluid. The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau announced a probe into the incident and now the NTSB has said it will join the analysis team.

Boeing told Reuters that it "aware of the 787 issue that occurred Tuesday afternoon at Narita, which appears to have involved the venting of a single battery cell. The improvements made to the 787 battery system last year appear to have worked as designed."

That fix refers to the changes Boeing was forced to make to the 787 after the entire fleet was grounded last year. The edict came after one Japanese flight had to make an emergency landing after its batteries started smoking and another aircraft caught fire at Boston's Logan airport in January.

Although Boeing made changes to the aircraft's electrical systems, in July last year another 787 caught fire while parked at London's Heathrow airport. That fire wasn't linked to the aircraft's batteries but to a malfunctioning emergency beacon. Some aviation experts expressed concern over the design of the aircraft and its safety.

The use of batteries is central to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which is touted as the most fuel-efficient airliner in its class. The aircraft uses electrical power from the batteries to run most internal systems and that, coupled with its lightweight composite body, gives fuel savings of up to 20 per cent, apparently.

This latest incident does look remarkably similar to earlier problems. In those cases Boeing explained that what looked like smoke was in fact vaporized electrolyte and not the result of any combustion. So that's all right, then. ®

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