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NTSB Says No Quick Fix for Dreamliner Problems

In what could be a body blow to Boeing’s reputation and sales of its flagship airliner, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today reported that its investigation into the cause of a battery fire onboard a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston’s Logan airport is far from complete. (A PDF of the NTSB’s report is here.)

Although the lithium-ion batteries are the focus of attention, it has yet to be established if the batteries themselves are at fault, or whether the problem lies with one of the many subsystems that monitor and charge the batteries.

In its coverage of today’s NTSB briefing, the New York Times quoted an agency official as follows: “There are multiple systems to prevent against a battery event like this. Those systems did not work as intended. We need to understand why.” And understanding why is just the first step in developing a fix for the problem and getting the grounded Dreamliners back in the air.

Separately, the Seattle Times is reporting that a 787 battery undergoing safety testing in 2006 exploded in a lab run by Securaplane Technologies of Tucson, Arizona. The building housing the lab burned to the ground.

Dreamliner Issues

The ever-growing list of 787-related incidents and responses now includes the following:

  • On January 16, the FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners grounded until the safety issues could be sorted out. The move prompted a worldwide grounding.
  • On January 15, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suspended all 787 flights following a battery malfunction that resulted in an emergency landing.
  • At least partly in response to the service suspensions by Japanese carriers, Qatar Airways cancelled a scheduled 787 flight from London to Doha.
  • On January 13, a fuel leak was discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
  • On January 11, the FAA announced that it would subject the 787 Dreamliner to an unusual post-launch “review.”
  • On January 7, a fire broke out on a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.
  • A fire similar to the one in Boston had been reported during the 787’s testing phase in 2010.
  • In December, an electrical malfunction forced a United Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing.
  • Later that same month, United reported that the same issue had been discovered on a second Dreamliner.
  • Also in December, Qatar Airlines grounded one of its 787s because of electrical issues.
  • On December 5, the FAA ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.

About the 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner is Boeing’s most advanced airliner, featuring such cutting-edge technology as lithium-ion batteries and a composite-plastic body.

The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then about 35 787s have been delivered to eight airline customers, including United.

As of last month, the company had taken orders for 844 Dreamliners, and Boeing hopes to sell as many as 5,000 during the lifetime of the plane.

Reader Reality Check

Are the 787’s problems of concern to you? Would you fly on one anyway?

This article originally appeared on

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