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Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013, 4:01 p.m.

NTSB details stubborn battery fire on Boeing 787

The report from the National Transportation Safety Board says the battery fire aboard a 787 lasted 100 minutes and cascaded from one cell to the other seven.

  • A Boeing 787 lands at Paine Field in Everett on Feb. 7, one of the few flights allowed by a Dreamliner since the 787 was grounded Jan. 16 by the FAA b...

    Mark Mulligan / Herald file photo

    A Boeing 787 lands at Paine Field in Everett on Feb. 7, one of the few flights allowed by a Dreamliner since the 787 was grounded Jan. 16 by the FAA because of concerns over the its batteries.

A report released Thursday by federal investigators gave new details about a Jan. 7 battery fire on a Boeing 787 but didn't indicate the cause of the incident, which contributed to the jet's grounding.
The National Transportation and Safety Board reported provided an account, down to the second, of the lithium-ion battery failure on a Japan Airlines 787 and emergency responders' actions. It also detailed the certification process for Boeing's Dreamliner. The jet has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the 787 on Jan. 16. Boeing has since proposed a fix for the battery and is awaiting a response from the FAA.
"With the grounding of the 787 fleet, concurrent international incident investigations, redesign and re-certification activities taking place simultaneously, it is essential to provide the aviation community, policy makers and the public with the factual information we are developing," Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairman of the NTSB, said in a statement Thursday.
The NTSB will hold a forum and a separate hearing in April in Washington, D.C., Hersman said. The events will be webcast. Additional information about dates and times will be released later.
The information derived from the events will help the agency and "the entire transportation community better understand the risks and benefits associated with lithium batteries and illuminate how manufacturers and regulators evaluate the safety of new technology," she said.
The NTSB previously had said that one cell in the lithium battery short-circuited, cascading the fire to the other seven cells. Boeing had thought a fire would be contained to the cell it originated in.
Emergency responders to the Jan. 7 blaze battled thick smoke in the aircraft because of a loss of power to the 787's venting system. The captain in charge of the firefighting crew reported the battery was "hissing loudly and that liquid was flowing down the sides of the battery case" even after being doused for five minutes with an extinguishing solution. Responders did not deem the fire as contained until one hour, 40 minutes after it was first reported, according to the NTSB report.
Last month, the NTSB's Hersman told reporters that the assumptions used by Boeing to certify the lithium-ion battery "must be reconsidered." According to the agency's report, Boeing believed that a fire of the Jan. 7 magnitude could only happen if the battery was overcharged. The NTSB has ruled that out.
Since the 787's Jan. 16 grounding, Boeing has tapped Ford, General Motors, General Electric, United Technologies and others to provide expertise, according to five people familiar with the matter.
GS Yuasa, the supplier, has doubled the number of its tests on the advice of a "non-advocate review" panel created by Boeing with officials from some of the companies, one person said. Fixing the batteries is key to resuming 787 service, and Boeing faces penalties from the eight airlines that operate the 787s as well as those whose deliveries have been delayed.
The panel, along with engineers from Boeing, GS Yuasa and Thales SA "identified improvements that could be made to the battery, the battery system and the airplane installation that would provide three distinct layers of protection," said Marc Birtel, a spokesman at Boeing's commercial headquarters in Seattle. "Among the items in this comprehensive set of solutions were improvements to the production process."
Boeing is assembling upgrade kits to tweak the battery system as it awaits an FAA verdict on the proposed fix. The measures are focused on containing fires, even though the two-month investigation has yet to identify a root cause for the January faults.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he won't let the jet fly again until he's "1,000 percent sure" it's safe.

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