The Norman Transcript

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January 19, 2013

Batteries to blame?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Boeing said Friday it will stop delivering new 787s to customers until the electrical system is fixed. However, production is not stopping. The plane is assembled in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C. The aircraft maker has booked orders for more than 800 of the planes from airlines around the world attracted by its increased fuel efficiency.

A battery fire in a Cessna Citation CJ4, a business jet, prompted the Federal Aviation Administration in October 2011 to issue an emergency order requiring the lithium ion batteries in all 42 of the jets in operation at that time to be replaced with a conventional nickel-cadmium or lead-acid battery. The fire occurred while the plane was hooked up to a ground power station at Cessna’s aircraft completion center in Wichita, Kan. Normally, that would cause an aircraft battery to automatically start charging, experts said.

A letter from Cessna to CJ4 owners after the incident cautioned: “Do not connect a ground power unit to the airplane if you have reason to believe the battery may be in a depleted state ... Do not leave the aircraft unattended with a ground power unit connected.”

The Citation was Cessna’s first business jet with a lithium ion battery as its main battery, and the 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries. But the two are vastly different in size and in other respects, including their electrical systems, making comparisons difficult. Their batteries also came from different makers. The reasons they overcharged are likely to be different, experts said.

However, the three incidents — the two burned 787 batteries and the Citation fire — underscore the vulnerability of lithium ion batteries to igniting if they receive too much voltage too fast, experts said.

Other types of batteries may overheat in those circumstances, but they are far less susceptible to starting a fire, they said.

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