| NEW YORK/COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, April 12
NEW YORK/COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, April 12 (Reuters) -
U .S. regulators are discussing whether the batteries that burned
on Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner hold any lessons for other
aircraft or vehicles.
George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space
transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, said a
dialogue is taking place about whether the overheating of two
lithium-ion batteries on the 787 could have broader
"Everyone's looking to see if there are any lessons to be
learned from this," Nield told Reuters during a conference
hosted by the Space Foundation this week.
The discussion marks a shift for the agency. Two months
after the Dreamliner was approved for service in 2011, a
lithium-ion battery caught fire on a Cessna business jet,
prompting the FAA to order that lithium-ion batteries be
replaced with less hazardous cells on all of those jets within a
week. But the agency concluded there were no broader lessons to
be learned for the 787 or other aircraft.
Nield, who noted that the International Space Station is
among the platforms that use the batteries, said the discussion
is different now.
"There might not have been a lot (of dialogue) in the past,
but I can assure you there will be going forward," Nield said.
POPULAR BUT TRICKY
Lightweight and power-packed, lithium-ion batteries are used
to power electric cars, laptops, tablets, cell phones,
satellites. They are even used on the Lockheed Martin Corp
F-35 fighter jet. The number of cells manufactured
globally has leapt to 4.4 billion in 2012 from 800 million in
But safety remains an issue. The battery industry still does
not have a foolproof way to predict or prevent internal short
circuits in the cells, according to experts who spoke about the
issue this week at the National Transportation Safety Board
The NTSB is investigating what caused one of the 787
batteries to overheat and catch fire in January. A second
battery smoldered and emitted smoke during a flight in Japan,
prompting the pilots to make an emergency landing and evacuate
When the FAA initially approved Boeing's lithium-ion battery
system in 2007, it lacked rules to govern their use on planes,
and set "special conditions" for Boeing to follow to ensure they
would be safe.
When the two batteries failed in January, the FAA's process
came under scrutiny and critics said the agency could have
applied lessons from past battery incidents.
The NTSB has set April 23-24 for an investigative hearing on
the Boeing battery that caught fire.
The FAA also has launched an extensive review of Boeing's
manufacturing, production and design process for the 787, aimed
at addressing the batteries and other problems that have cropped
up during the first year of service by the new high-tech plane.
Asked about the Cessna fire, the FAA told Reuters its
investigation at the time "determined the fire was caused by
mishandling and misuse of the battery while the aircraft was in
a maintenance hangar. The battery size, composition and design
were different than those of the 787 battery."
Cessna declined to comment.
Since the 787 was grounded last Jan. 16, Boeing has tapped
engineers from its airplane and space divisions as well as
outside experts as part of a 200-member team that developed a
package of measures aimed at preventing further battery problems
aboard the 787. The FAA is now evaluating the revamped battery
system to determine whether it is safe for the 787 to resume
Ray Conner, who heads Boeing's commercial aircraft division,
told an investor conference last month that Boeing tapped the
expertise of engineers from other divisions who were familiar
with lithium-ion batteries to develop the new battery system.
In the Cessna case, the FAA required that lithium-ion
batteries in the Cessna Citation Model 525C, be replaced with
nickel-cadmium or lead-acid batteries, older technologies that
are not as volatile. Airbus officials have said they think
lithium-ion batteries can eventually be made safe, but that the
company was shifting to nickel-cadmium for its forthcoming A350
jet, because it doesn't want to risk a delay in bringing the
plane to market.
Boeing has said it isn't considering shifting away from