The emergence and development of aviation industry marks the immense advancement of human knowledge in the field of technology. In spite of many technical shortcomings and experimental flaws at the beginning, this huge industry continues to move toward perfection by the passage of time. The present paper is dedicated to presenting a case analysis on a specific flaw of an aircraft during its construction and development phase. A critical analysis of the lithium-ion battery flow in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the way the manufacturers recovered the crisis and some potential suggestions on the issue will be presented here.
At around 10:20 AM on January 7, 2013, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport with 183 passengers and 11 crews. Immediately after all the aircraft was disembarked, one of the cleaning staffs noticed a specific spot of the plane releasing smoke. Technicians immediately figured out the source of the smoke, that is, the lithium ion battery serving as the auxiliary power unit in the aircraft. The firefighters reached, and the blaze was under control soon. Subsequent inspection showed that the battery, provided as an accessory to the aircraft by a manufacturing company named GS Yuasa, reached a condition known as thermal runaway, where one of the battery’s cells malfunctions and become extremely heated, and gradually causes nearby cells to be heated. This was not the only incident caused by the poorly manufactured lithium ion batteries. Within only five days of the first incident, another 787 Dreamliner owned by All Nippon Airways was forced in emergency landing after technical problems were noticed in the batteries.
These consequent life-threatening incidents were followed by the immediate grounding order of the whole fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner all around the world by the authorities until the failing accessories were properly retrofitted. The Boeing authorities immediately started to work on replacing the malfunctioning parts of all the 787 Dreamliner wherever supplied. The replaced installations included a better insulation system for the placement of batteries, stainless steel covering to prevent the supply of smoke and ignition from one battery to another, and proper ventilation system to let the smokes out of the aircraft in case of potential battery failure.As claimed by the Boeing officials, it spent more than 100,000 hours to inspect and redesign the new installments properly. More than twelve battery experts from governments, universities and other organizations were invited to contribute to the change made in lithium ion battery installation. Around 300 engineers were sent to at least thirteen international locations to apply the new installments in all the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft all around the world.
Upon the retrofitting of failing mechanisms and multiple quality tests by Boeing, Federal Aviation Administration, and International Civil Aviation Organization, the grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet was finally approved to continue their flight. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner owned by the Ethiopian Airlines was the first aircraft to resume its transportation service on April 27, 2013, after the grounding order was withdrawn by the authorities upon the retrofitting of lithium ion batteries.The Boeing Corporation immediately took proper measures to cope up with the crisis and to mitigate any such potential threats in future. I would do the same if I were to manage the inspection and retrofitting of failing parts of the aircraft. Besides, I would suggest an important measure that will be helpful in preventing potential technical threats in future. That is after the aircraft begins to provide service, all of its parts must be intensively inspected by the engineers, as opposed to regular maintenance checking by the staff, in regular interval to detect possible defects and malfunctions.
Hundreds of lives depend on the safety measures taken by the aircraft manufacturers. It was pretty unexpected from a world-famous aircraft manufacturing corporation like the Boeing to have such technical defects in their aircraft. However, the good sign is that the Boeing Corporation successfully recovered one of the greatest disasters in its career.