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Lithium batteries in 787 may pose fire issues

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Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
I'd hate to know I had to fight a lithium fire in an enclosed space like a cargo hold or an airliner electronics bay!

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-10/boeing-fire-spotlights-hazard-of-plug-in-cars-laptops.html

It seems like the newest airliners, the A380 and the 787 are having some startup difficulties.
_______________
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch
Member
Registered: May 2011
Posts: 143
Hmmm... We transport tons of those on a daily basis. It's a known danger, every pilot flying cargo should've been briefed about it. We all have a vague idea that politics know the IT world is far too dependend on LI based batteries. The economical consequences of the required safety measures would be that we would all feel it too much on our bank account. Either cargo airlines go bankrupt, or you pay a LOT more for your toys at home. The result is that we - freight airlines - continue to transport them without too much additional safety measures. We are being drilled to pretty much dive bomb for the first available runway. If not in 15' minutes reacheable, ditch or desert will do as well.

Ask UPS. They lost a 744 because of that, and the result was that LI batteries where banned from passenger flights. Freighters didn't need additional safety measures. Halleluja.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
I don't understand why such batteries shouldn't be shipped by boat only. Taking a few weeks to cross the ocean vs 12 hours doesn't seem important to me, but I must be missing something.

Of course I would not wish for freighter ships to burn, but at least the crew would be able to abandon ship and use their lifeboats without having to use parachutes!
_______________
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch
Member
Registered: Jun 2009
Posts: 275
Location: Potsdam, Germany
I don't see why lithium bateries are more prone to fires?

After all, if it's about economy, you want your goods quickly,
and you would try to abstain from sheltering large amounts
of an ageing product. So I think its more because of practical reasons.
Member
Registered: May 2011
Posts: 143
When overheating they self-ignite. Since they come in packs, one activates the other when catching fire. And if you can't cool them down, the fire is pretty much in-extinguisheable. I believe the fire fighters needed 40 minutes to stop the 787 battery fire?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcd34tt8YPU

This is the FAA briefing video when you are using computers with LI batteries in the aircraft (ie for perfo calculations). This one computer with a battery fire. Now imagine the result when you have a couple of pallets, +2m in height, full of those batteries packed close together.
Member
Registered: Feb 2012
Posts: 10
I don't post a lot here (lurker) but on this topic, given that I am a Vice President for a major cargo carrier, all I can say is that 1) LI and items containing bulk LI batteries should be banned from carriage as air cargo on PAX flights; 2) LI should be treated as full on IATA regulated (DGR) material; and 3) no time is too soon to do this.

The reason might surprise you. The batteries themselves are not always the culprits, i.e. most of time the trigger is external heat, or something mechanical, e.g. a short circuit in a laptop, that initiates the failure chain.

As an example, at the carrier I work for we've stopped loading bulk shipments containing LI batteries in certain ULD positions in the lower hold, where our own data tells us there are higher than normal ambient temperatures, or a risk for the same occurring at some stage of flight.

However, more importantly - it is the entire air cargo system in general, and the forwarding and air carrier relationship in particular, bears much of the blame.

By and large, the forwarding industry is ill equipped and unprepared (poorly trained) to handle any type of hazardous material by air, with but few exceptions. The shortcuts the forwarding agents take are numerous and well documented and have contributed to numerous reportable safety violations for my carrier.

The airlines also share the blame by outsourcing critical handling and ULD build up functions, to ground handlers who pay shoddy wages, have high turnover, and do their training around a break table in a dingy break room. Combine the shortcuts and cavalier attitudes of the forwarding industry with the cut throat behavior and competition for every kilo by the air carriers, top off with poor and inadequate training on both ends of the chain, and you have a cocktail for disaster.

The Asiana crash not too long after the UPS accident in Dubai brought these shortcomings to light. Here, as it turned out, the LI batteries were packed in a Q7 position on the same ULD with undeclared Class 3 and 8 DGR. Unreal. When the batteries cooked off, those guys did not have a chance. The fire was out of control before they could even react.

At a minimum, bulk shipments of commodities containing large LI batteries should be pulled off of PAX a/c and moved to freighters, and full DG tariffs should be applied. It will force the agents, and airlines, to handle the commodity the way it should be handled, as R/A DG and not class 9 or excepted quantities.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 497
Thanks for that.
I was wondering, never gave it thought before, but does a freighter version have a very different fire supression system compared to a pax version? Or is it just a question of added bottles and re-arranging the nozzles perhaps?

Jeroen
Member
Registered: May 2010
Posts: 843
In relation to the 747-400 Freighter, the extiguishing system for the lower cargo deck is standard. For the main deck cargo, on most airlines, however (excluding the combi), a different method of extinguishing is used. i.e. cabin decompression.

If fire is detected, the pilots arm the Main Deck "extinguishing" system and then push a guarded decompression button on the overhead panel. This sends a signal to the Cabin Pressure Controller/s to raise the cabin altitude to 25,000'. Since parts of the cabin are not really isolated from each other (pressure-wise), this means that the pilots and supernumary crew will be forced to use oxygen. The effectiveness of this system is highly debatable, but it seems to satisfy the aviation regulators :?

I believe some airlines have retrofitted their Freighters with regular extinguishing systems for the main deck, but cost is an issue.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 497
John H Watson wrote
In relation to the 747-400 Freighter, the extiguishing system for the lower cargo deck is standard. For the main deck cargo, on most airlines, however (excluding the combi), a different method of extinguishing is used. i.e. cabin decompression.


Thanks John,
I'm very surprised that decompression is used/allowed/accepted.

I would have thought it can never be as effective as releasing say Argon or whatever it is they use these days on aircraft. Unless you're in outerspace with no oxygen molecules left. As long as there is oxygen the fire won't go out properly I would think.

Jeroen
Member
Registered: May 2010
Posts: 843
Quote
I would have thought it can never be as effective as releasing say Argon or whatever it is they use these days on aircraft.


I'm not sure of the relative protectiveness, but below 25,000', you're going to have increasingly less protection.

I think freon is still used in extinguishing systems. Unless maintenance errors allow freon to escape from the bottles, the freon is not going to get into the atmosphere unless you have a rare engine or cargo fire.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 497
Yep, as you descent the air will contain more oxygen molecules and any smouldering fire will start up again.
I'd be surprised if they still use Freon for two reasons. It's very environmental unfriendly and it is toxic.

The big advantage of modern gasses such as Argon, is that they are much more environmental friendly and they are non toxic.
Member
Registered: May 2010
Posts: 843
Quote
It's very environmental unfriendly and it is toxic.


Only if it's used ;)

Airlines are receiving special dispensations/exemptions regarding Halon (Freon) extinguishants, at least in some part of the world. Here in Australia, for example, Aircraft Maintenance Engineers have CASA approval to handle ozone depleting substances if they have done an approved training course. If the gas is intentionally (during a fire) or unintentionally (oops), we have to report the incident to the authorities.

Unfortunately, pound for pound, an extinguishant of the same effectiveness hasn't been found yet.

Cheers
JHW
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 497
Thanks,
Wish I could make use of your services. I still have an old 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider sportscar with an airconditiong based on freon. I could sure use a top up!

Jeroen
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
More news stories on the 787 are showing up. Japan has grounded their fleets, as best I can follow.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-16/ana-s-boeing-787-makes-emergency-landing-amid-battery-indicator.html

I wonder if most or all new airliners are likely to have startup problems? Just look at the problems with the A380 and its exploding engines, which of course were not limited to the A380 airframe in use.

Overheating/burning lithium batteries seem to me more like an inadequately developed technology with respect to use or as cargo in an airliner, but I'm of course not significantly knowledgeable in a technical or regulatory sense.
_______________
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
All technology needs a few years of application to finish the development. It is a dream (pardon the pun) to think that you can really work out all quirks in the lab or by looking at existing applications. So yes, all technical (and probably nontechnical) projects of any significant size have these startup problems. If the project is a one-off, such as a great public work, it may even take a decade or longer as there is less material to experiment with.

When this is considered unacceptable, development and innovation halts. There is always risk involved.

Unless, of course, when you outsource the development to India and replace your engineers by lawyers. Har har.


Jeroen
Member
Registered: May 2011
Posts: 143
Halon is the main (manual) fire extinguisher yes. It is toxic, but pilots are trained to use them ONLY with protective breathing equipment (drager hoods in our company). As long as you know how to handle the product, it is fairly safe.

787 reliability discussion is a bit different. It's true the new aircraft doesn't pose any more problems than other entry into service procedures we've seen, however the consequences of the problems they are facing or (in my opinion) higher than seen before. 777 had problems as well, but ie on backup systems leading to ETOPS yes/no problems. But you could still fly it without too much danger. A recurring Li-battery fire is still a completely different situation.
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
They are now grounded worldwide. That is NOT good.


Hoppie
Member
Registered: May 2010
Posts: 843
I wonder if the problem is with the battery, or with the charger? Perhaps it's charging the battery too quickly and the battery is overheating.

I can see them going back to the old NiCad type (not worth the risk for the sake of a few kilos)
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
More than a few kg -- the 787 is a real electricity sucker. They will need a lot of NiCd cells.


Jeroen
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 479
Location: EFTO
Easily solved by a slight shift in the PAX marketing target segment...

User posted image

M.
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
That's no shift, it has always been cattle class.

It's a shift in cabin luggage requirements :-) MUST BRING BATTERIES.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
Here's a link to the NY Times story on the lithium battery issues:

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/18/business/inside-the-787-an-unsettling-risk-for-boeing.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=all

Perhaps it's a problem with a single battery vendor's design or manufacturing rather than a universal lithium battery problem for the 787...I assume they didn't single-source their batteries.

Are large lithium batteries used in other airliners to any significant extent?

-----------
EDIT:

Another story here, with good photos of a fire-damaged 787 battery, and some videos too:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-18/why-the-batteries-in-boeings-787-are-burning
_______________
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch
« Last edit by Phil Bunch on Sat, 19 Jan 2013 00:54:59 +0000. »
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
787 is the one and only carrying Li-Ion at this moment.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
A NY Times story, with some more details is here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/business/boeing-closer-to-answer-on-787s-but-not-to-getting-them-back-in-air.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=all

Some news media are beginning to compare the 787 with the star-crossed British airliner, the Comet. Surely that's grossly inaccurate...but it of course depends on whether or not Boeing and their suppliers can come up with clear evidence that the battery problem is both understood and fixed.

Can anyone provide an estimate re the availability of suitable non-lithium batteries for the 787? In other words, is it *technically* possible with a short-term effort to replace the lithium batteries with some other type of airliner-certified battery? As I type this, I can't begin to imagine how much regulatory and engineering testing and certifications would be needed to swap these batteries out, even if suitable batteries are available. It's not quite the same as swapping out one's automobile battery...
_______________
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch
Moderator
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 2449
Location: KTMB
Next to the obvious engineering challenges of fitting dissimilar batteries (size, weight, charger, possibly even voltage as 28V is not necessarily what the batteries produce), it probably will be possible to certify the hack solution by similarity to previous aircraft. If they would take, say, the battery system of a 777, that system by itself can just bring in the 777 paperwork and be over with in a day. It's the integration with the 787 systems and airframe that will be the big effort.


Jeroen

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