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When Boeing introduced the new 787 Dreamliner airplane in 2011, it touted the innovative airplane as lighter and 20% more fuel efficient than other airplanes due in part to the use of lithium-ion batteries. However, the Dreamliner has been plagued by a string of recent safety incidents. On January 8, 2013, a flight from Boston to Japan was cancelled after 40 gallons of fuel leaked. On January 11, 2013, a pilot-side window cracked during flight. Perhaps the most alarming mishaps happened on January 7 and January 16 when Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries caught on fire.
In response to this string of episodes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced an emergency airworthiness directive (AD). The AD requires that “…operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe” before they may fly the planes again. International safety organizations followed suit, effectively grounding the Dreamliner 787 worldwide, leaving affected airlines with a scheduling muddle.
While Boeing continues to manufacture the plane, it cannot deliver new 787s until the current investigation is resolved. Instead of launching Boeing into a new era of aviation domination, the innovative plane has spawned a nightmare situation in which their flagship plane is tainted by safety concerns, and deliveries are stalled by investigations.
Airline customers worldwide wondered, perhaps for the first time, about lithium-ion batteries. Batteries—they are in your camera, your phone, your computer, and your flashlight but how much do you know about batteries? How do they work? How are lithium-ion batteries different than alkaline batteries? What do investigators know about the lithium-ion battery fires aboard the 787s? Explore the power of batteries, and discover more about their connection to the Dreamliner 787.ng continues to manufacture the plane, it cannot deliver new 787s until the current investigation is resolved. Instead of launching Boeing into a new era of aviation domination, the innovative plane has spawned a nightmare situation in which their flagship plane is tainted by safety concerns, and deliveries are stalled by investigations.
Batteries convert chemical energy into electrical energy that then powers your phone, your car, Boeing’s planes. For an introduction to batteries, follow the bunny, the Energizer bunny, that is. Begin at Energizer.com with an introduction to how batteries work. The introduction has three parts: battery parts, constructing the battery, and powering the device. Each topic is listed in a tab along the top of the pop-up box. Be sure to visit each tab to learn the parts of a battery, see how a battery is put together, and then discover how batteries power your things.
The batteries in the Dreamliner were not alkaline but lithium-ion batteries. Two videos help you look inside a lithium-ion battery. The first video describes the parts of a lithium-ion battery and how the batteries work. In the second video, Don Siegel, University of Michigan assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, shows how the lithium-ion battery works.
Lithium-ion batteries have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Read page one of HowStuffWorks.com’ article to find out more about their pros and cons. Turn to BatteryUniversity.com’s brief article for more on the safety concerns related to lithium-ion (or Li-ion) batteries. How does this change your perception of the battery fires aboard the Dreamliner aircrafts?
A Look Inside the 787—
Discovering the chain of events that ignited the Dreamliner batteries will prove challenging. Investigators will have to examine not only the batteries, but the electrical system as well, including the chargers, and the circuitry. It is difficult to recreate in a laboratory the sequence of events that led to the fires. In addition, while Boeing assembled the 787, it outsourced the manufacturing of many of the components of the plane. View suppliers of Dreamliners’ parts. How might this affect the investigation? Examine the inner-workings of the 787 to see how it is different than earlier models and to get a sense of its complexity.
Turn to the Associated Press for an infographic that details the Dreamliner's history of problems. Scroll down on page 1 to read more about the companies that supplied the battery and the charger. Turn to page 2 of the infographic for a sense of how the hold on deliveries will impact Boeing, and individual airlines.
Perhaps, as some claim, these two incidents of lithium-ion batteries catching fire are statistical anomalies and that the majority of lithium-ion batteries are safe. However, the Dreamliner 787 can be manufactured to seat between 210 and 290 passengers and so the FAA is taking no chances. Until officials identify the cause of the fires, Dreamliners remain tucked in at airports worldwide.
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) is the agency responsible for investigating all civil transportation accidents. Last week, the NTSB reported the latest information from their investigation into the cause of the 787 battery fires. Scroll through the report. Summarize the steps the NTSB has taken so far and why these steps may help them understand what happened. What do the photographs reveal? What theories might explain why the batteries caught on fire? What other steps will investigators take? Explain which images or information caught your attention. What questions do you have?