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Boeing 787 trouble

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the troubled Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane after multiple emergency landings across the world were required. Japanese and French aviation officials also have launched investigations.

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Does Boeing have fix for Dreamliner problems?

dreamlinerSEATTLE — Aviation Week reported that Boeing is set to present details of its proposed plan to fix the 787 battery issues that has grounded the fleet, but a Boeing spokesman had no comment.

The publication said that a possible solution could be to increase the space between battery cells and add a vent that could prevent overheating. According to reports, a Boeing team led by Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner will propose a plan to the Federal Aviation Administration as early as Feb. 21.

“Boeing has teams of hundreds of engineering and technical experts who are working around the clock with the sole focus of resolving the issue and returning the 787 fleet to flight status. Everyone is working to get to the answer as quickly as possible and good progress is being made,” Boeing’s Doug Adler said in response to queries regarding Aviation Week’s report.

Boeing’s Dreamliners have been grounded since last month after a series of battery-related problems. The aircraft manufacturer has launched an informational website that explains the issues the Dreamliner has faced.

boeingEVERETT — The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Union split over a vote on whether or not to accept Boeing Co.’s latest contract offers, effectively sending some of the union and its 22,000 members back to the bargaining table.

More than 18,000 members voiced their opinion in union-wide voting that ended at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The group, made up of Boeing engineers and technicians, are split over whether or not to accept the contracts offered by Boeing.

According to union leaders, the engineers voted to accept the new contract 5,691 to 4,810. The technical group rejected the latest contract offer 3,014 to 2,801. That group also voted to authorize a strike.

According to leaders, the tech group will return to the bargaining table in hopes of reaching a new agreement with a national mediator. If not, a strike is still possible.

A split decision by SPEEA hasn’t been issued since the 1990s.

Leaders of SPEEA recently urged members to reject Boeing’s latest contract, which included a cut in the retirement contribution plan. Union leaders have previously said a strike wouldn’t start until March. 1.

Formal negotiations with SPEEA began April 19. SPEEA’s contract with Boeing was scheduled to expire Oct. 6, 2012, but was extended. The contracts covered about 15,600 professional engineers and 7,800 technical workers, mostly in the Puget Sound region. Boeing executives previously have asked SPEEA members to roll over on the union’s 2008 provisions, with one change to the contract that would initiate a 401(k) retirement plan instead of a pension plan.

After the vote, Boeing officials released a statement saying they are pleased with the engineers, but “deeply disappointed that technical employees rejected the compnay’s best-and-final offer.”

SPEEA leaders called the new plans a “significant cut” in retirement contribution. Ray Goforth, the executive director of the SPEEA, said the contract was largely a good offer, outside of a “poison pill” retirement package. He said everyone hired beginning in March would have 40 percent less in their retirement plan compared to those hired prior to March 1.

“The employer has inserted a poison pill into the contract, that would end up hurting everyone,” Goforth said.

Dennis Davaz, a SPEEA member, said he voted to not accept the new contract.

“There’s no reason for a take away right now with as well as Boeing is doing,” Davaz said.

But Boeing officials said they put forth a substantial contract with adequate benefits.

“It’s important that we protect our competitiveness in the long-run, even if that means some short-term pain,” Boeing Co.’s President Ray Connor said.

Connor said the latest offer was one that recognized the “tremendous contributions and skills” that engineers brought to Boeing.

“Nobody wins in a strike,” Connor said. “While hurting Boeing and our employees, it would also impact our customers who’ve put their trust in Boeing’s people and products.”

If the techs go on strike, all commercial production will stop. Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement following the vote, saying he was concerned about the split vote, and he urged the union and the Boeing Co. to come to an agreement.

dreamlinerWASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration will allow Boeing to conduct test flights of the embattled 787 aircraft to gather additional data on the airplane grounded almost a month ago.

In a statement released Thursday, FAA Secretary Ray LaHood said the tests will help both the FAA and Boeing gathering information about the battery and electrical system performance while the aircraft is airborne. In January, the FAA grounded all Boeing 787s after battery problems caused emergency landings in at least two Dreamliner flights.

The FAA imposed a number of restrictions on the test flights, including pre-flight testing, in-flight monitoring and restricting the test flights to defined airspace over unpopulated areas.

The test flights will be conducted through a Special Airworthiness Certificate (for the purpose of Research and Development) under the following requirements:

In addition to the FAA’s root cause analysis, the FAA is conducting a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems, including the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the FAA announced Thursday.

The FAA’s announcement comes on the heels of a National Transportation Safety Board press conference, where officials announced that investigators were coming close to determining the exact cause of the Dreamliner’s battery issues.

Boeing released a statement Thursday in response to the FAA’s decision, saying the company is confident battery problems will be figured out shortly.

“The company has marshaled an extensive team of hundreds of experts and they are working around the clock focused on resolving the 787 battery issue and returning the 787 fleet to full flight status,” Boeing said in a statement. “We are doing all we can to reach a resolution and begin to again meet their expectations.”

787 ZA001 air to airWASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board announced Thursday investigators are close to pinpointing the cause of the fire on a Japan Airlines jet a month ago.

According to the NTSB, a single cell inside one of the Dreamliner’s two batteries sparked the fire. The fire occurred after a short-circuit within the battery, authorities said, caused voltage to drop from 32 to 28.

Dreamliner’s Lithium-ion batteries have eight cells per battery. The fire in the Japan Airlines flight was sparked in cell 6.

Investigators ruled out the fire being caused by an external short-circuit or any damage that occurred in installation. Though the agency hasn’t determined the exact cause of the cell’s problems, it is narrowing down the options.

Three potential causes may have been responsible for the short-circuit, the Seattle Times reported:

  • Some malfunction in the battery charging system 
  • Contamination within the battery as a result of the manufacturing process
  • An inadequate battery design

The NTSB will now check to see if tests in the battery manufacturing process and certification are enough to prevent future fires. The Times reported that Boeing previously concluded tests “showed no evidence of cell-to-cell propagation or fire in the battery.”  But from the NTSB tests, it is clear that battery safety features failed to cope with initial failures, and Boeing may have to look at design, the Times reported.

Boeing welcomed the progress being made by the NTSB, the company said in a statement.

“The findings discussed today demonstrated a narrowing of the focus of the investigation to short circuiting observed in the battery, while providing the public with a better understanding of the nature of the investigation.”

dreamlinerSEATTLE — The aviation giant Boeing submitted an application to conduct test flights on the embattled 787 to the Federal Aviation Administration Monday.

Boeing officials said Monday they submitted an application to conduct the test flights, and the application is currently under evaluation by the FAA.

According to the Seattle Times, the FAA is likely to grant Boeing’s request by Monday evening, and the 787 could again be in the air later this week for testing.

The tests should gather data on the troubled lithium ion battery that has grounded all 787 aircraft since January, the Times reported. Though passenger service wouldn’t resume anytime soon, the tests are the first steps in getting the troubled airplane back in the air.

The FAA ordered the Dreamliner’s grounding after battery incidents caused emergency landings.

boeingengineers1SEATTLE — Union leaders representing about 23,000 engineers and technical workers at the Boeing Co. decided Thursday to put a strike authorization vote on a ballots that will be sent to members next week.

The bargaining councils also voted to join the two negotiation teams in their recommendations that SPEEA union members reject the company’s latest contract offer to 7,400 Technical and 15, 550 Professional employees.

Ballot packages are scheduled for mailing Feb. 5. Members have until 5 p.m., Feb. 19, to cast and submit their votes.

Strike authorization does not in itself mean a strike will be called.

Boeing issued the following statement in response to the union leaders’ decision Thursday night:

“We’re disappointed in the recommendation from SPEEA’s Bargaining Unit Councils. However, the ultimate decision rests with our employees. We hope they run the numbers for themselves and vote for what’s best for them and the long-term competitiveness of the company.

“This is an offer that leads the market by all measures. We’ve met SPEEA’s interests by extending the current contract another four years for current employees, rewarding them for the contributions they bring to the company every day.

“Other than our competitors, no one benefits from a strike—not our employees, our customers, the community or the company.

“This is our best and final offer. Our negotiations team went all in and left nothing on the table.”

Boeing’s latest proposal is to extend the most of the terms of the previous contract for another four years and includes 5 percent annual pay raises for professional and technical workers. But a major sticking point for the union is that the company would enroll new employees in a defined contribution retirement plan, a shift from the defined benefit plan that current employees receive. The union says that would reduce benefits over the long term.

Formal negotiations with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001began April 19. SPEEA’s contract with Boeing was scheduled to expire last Oct. 6, but was extended.

787 ZA001 air to airSEATTLE– More than 100 of Boeing’s troubled lithium-ion batteries had to be returned to their Japanese manufacturer, according to a report released by the Seattle Times.

Citing unnamed sources of someone “inside the 787 program with direct knowledge,” the Times reported that as many as 150 batteries were sent back to Japan before the Federal Aviation Administration grounded Boeing’s troubled plane.

Officials with Boeing declined to mention the overall number of batteries sent back.

According to the Times, the prevalence of the battery issues reflects problems with the plane’s electrical system. The New York Times reported that All Nippon Airways (ANA) replaced 10 batteries on its fleet of 17 Dreamliners prior to the 787′s grounding. Five of the 10 batteries were low in charge, the primary problem of the returned batteries.

However, low-voltage problems were not related to a battery that caught fire in Boston and a smoking battery grounding a plane in Japan.

Lithium-ion batteries can be “dangerously volatile” if undercharged, the Seattle Times reported.

The batteries are manufactured by GS Yuasa in Japan and sent to Boeing through the system supplier, Thales of France. GS Yuasa supplies lithium-ion batteries for such things as the International Space Station and railway vehicles.

Fixing the problem could be costly and time-consuming, the Times reported.

batteryBy Gregory Karp

Chicago Tribune reporter

Boeing 787 Dreamliners will remain flightless birds for some time, it appears.

Federal investigators said Thursday they are still early in their probe of a Dreamliner battery fire in Boston Jan. 7. That fire, along with a subsequent 787 battery problem in Japan, led to groundings of Boeing’s breakthrough plane model in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The revelation at a news conference Thursday afternoon that investigators still have not found a cause may suggest grounded Dreamliners, including six owned by Chicago-based United Airlines, won’t be airborne anytime soon.

“We are early in our investigation. We have a lot of activity to undertake,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, pointing to one upcoming forensic test that alone takes a week. “There is a lot more work to be done before we can identify what caused this event.”

The NTSB is the lead investigator of the battery fire in Boston aboard a Japan Airlines 787 aircraft.

Despite many aviation experts calling the 787′s numerous mechanical glitches “teething pains” that all new airplane models go through, Hersman emphasized the gravity of fires on planes.

“This is an unprecedented event. We are very concerned. … We do not expect to see fire events on board aircraft,” she said. “This is a very serious air safety concern.”

Nobody was hurt in the fire on the 787 in Boston or in an emergency landing in Japan after battery-related smoke and fumes on a different 787 were discovered.

The NTSB investigation will try to explain why multiple backup protections in the battery and the electronics systems aimed at preventing a fire failed, Hersman said.

“These events should not happen,” she said. “As far as the design of the aircraft, there are multiple systems to protect against a battery event like this. Those systems did not work as intended. We need to understand why.”

Besides fire, NTSB investigators found evidence of short circuits in the charred eight-cell, 63-pound battery and “thermal runaway,” essentially uncontrolled spreading of heat. But those were symptoms, not necessarily causes, Hersman said. The batteries were made in Japan by Kyoto-based GS Yuasa Corp.

News that the NTSB investigation may be protracted — longer than the few days some had predicted — is bad news for Chicago-based Boeing.

Boeing last week halted deliveries of new 787s, until the FAA lifts the flight ban. However, Dreamliner production continues. Boeing is working to double monthly output in 2013 to help shrink a backlog of about 800 orders that swelled during multiple delays to the jet’s debut, which came in late 2011.

Deliveries are important because that’s when planemakers get large bulk payments on the purchase price of a jet. The 787′s list price starts at about $207 million, but airlines typically buy at discount.

In a statement Thursday, Boeing said it is assisting in multiple investigations in the U.S. and Japan.

“The company has formed teams consisting of hundreds of engineering and technical experts who are working around the clock with the sole focus of resolving the issue and returning the 787 fleet to flight status,” Boeing said.

Earlier Thursday, Boeing received a vote of confidence from United Airlines, the only U.S. airline  to own the new jet, during an earnings call with United Continental Holdings CEO Jeff Smisek. “History teaches us that all new aircraft types have issues, and the 787 is no different,” Smisek said. “We continue to have confidence in the aircraft and in Boeing’s ability to fix the issues, just as they have done on every other new aircraft model they’ve produced.”

United had been using a Dreamliners on a route between Chicago and Houston. After the grounding, the route has been flown with a different aircraft.

Dreamliners in the U.S., Japan, Europe and elsewhere have been grounded since Jan. 16, after a 787 operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in Japan because battery-related smoke and fumes. That followed the fire in Boston that the NTSB is investigating.

The Dreamliner grounding was the first since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had its airworthiness certificate suspended following a deadly crash in Chicago in 1979.

Boeing has sold about 850 of its new aircraft, with 50 delivered to date. The plane is half made of a composite material, leading some to call it a “plastic plane.” It makes greater use of electronics, powered by batteries, rather than heavy hydraulics. That makes the plane lighter and helps improve fuel efficiency, which is a big deal for airlines.

Boeing has said in statements that it is confident the 787 is safe, and it stands by the plane’s integrity. It is cooperating with investigations in the U.S. and abroad.

Because of the groundings, LOT Polish Airlines scrapped its inaugural flight from O’Hare International Airport to Warsaw Jan. 16, just hours after the FAA grounded the plane. LOT officials said they would seek compensation from Boeing for having its two Dreamliners grounded. It will take delivery of the three more due in March only if the problems are resolved, the airline said.

After Thursday, it’s clear nobody knows just when that might be.

“There is a tremendous amount of work going on all around the world,” Hersman said. “We actually have two shifts of employees both here and in Japan who really are working around the clock to try to solve this.”

BoeingSEATTLE — The Federal Aviation Administration ordered U.S. airlines Wednesday to ground Boeing 787 Dreamliners until operators of the aircraft can demonstrate that the planes’ batteries are safe and not a fire hazard.

United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

On Thursday, Air India grounded its fleet of six Boeing 787s, it was reported.

United Airlines issued the following statement: “United will immediately comply with the Airworthiness Directive and will work closely with the FAA and Boeing on the technical review as we work toward restoring 787 service.  We will begin re-accommodating customers on alternate aircraft.”

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney issued the following statement: “The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity,” McNerney said. “We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787′s safety and to return the airplanes to service. Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers.”

Earlier Wednesday, Japan’s two major airlines – All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines – grounded their Boeing 787s after a battery fire alarm prompted an emergency landing of an ANA flight in Japan. No one was injured. ANA has 17 Dreamliners and JAL has seven.

“As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations,” the FAA statement said.

“Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.  The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible,” the statement said.

The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on Jan. 7.  No one was injured in either incident. The FAA’s order was prompted by the second incident involving a lithium ion battery.  The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two 787 airplanes.

“The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation.  These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment,” the FAA said.

The ANA flight, which was scheduled to leave Yamaguchi Ube Airport at 8 a.m. Wednesday (6 p.m. ET Tuesday) and to arrive at Haneda Tokyo International Airport at 9:25 a.m., made an unscheduled landing in Takamatsu airport, Takuya Taniguchi said.

In recent weeks, Dreamliners have suffered issues including fuel leaks, a cracked cockpit window, brake problems and an electrical fire. As a result, Japanese and U.S. authorities have launched investigations into the aircraft.

Japan’s Ministry of Transport said smoke was seen in the cockpit, but not in the passenger compartment. The source of the smoke is not known. A strange smell was also confirmed. All 137 passengers and crew were safely evacuated, using emergency chutes.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said the company is “aware of the event and working with the customer.”

Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information.  In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.