Boeing has unveiled a series of enhancements to the lithium-ion batteries used onboard its B787 aircraft, as the manufacturer works towards returning the Dreamliner to service.

All 50 B787 aircraft currently in operation were grounded in January, following concerns surrounding the safety of onboard batteries.

Boeing has now detailed “a comprehensive set of improvements that will add several layers of additional safety features to the lithium-ion batteries”, and said that these enhancements are in production and “could be ready for initial installation within the next few weeks”.

The enhancements include:

  • Changes to the battery manufacture process and more rigorous testing “to further reduce any possibility for variation in the production of the individual cells as well as the overall battery”
  • Improved insulation within the battery itself, “to better insulate each of the cells in the battery from one another and from the battery box”
  • Changes to the battery case, including the addition of small holes at the bottom to “allow moisture to drain away from the battery”, and larger holes on the sides to “allow a failed battery to vent with less impact to other parts of the battery”
  • A new battery enclosure made of stainless steel, to “isolate the battery from the rest of the equipment in the electronic equipment bays”, and to “ensure there can be no fire inside the enclosure, thus adding another layer of protection to the battery system”

Mike Sinnett, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president and chief project engineer for the B787 programme, said: “Our first lines of improvements, the manufacturing tests and operations improvements, significantly reduce the likelihood of a battery failure. The second line of improvements, changes to the battery, helps stop an event and minimise the effect of a failure within the battery if it does occur. And the third line of improvements, the addition of the new enclosure, isolates the battery so that even if all the cells vent, there is no fire in the enclosure and there is no significant impact to the airplane.”

Boeing said the improvements are currently undergoing “extensive certification testing”, and will allow operators to resume commercial Dreamliner flights “as soon as testing is complete and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other international regulators grant their final approval”.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Ray Conner said the company was “moving out on an effort to resume deliveries”, but stressed that “completing our certification work and getting the delivered fleet flying again is our first priority”. Conner added that  “Our customers and their passengers have been incredibly patient as we have worked through this process and we thank them very sincerely for their continued support and confidence in the 787”.

Earlier this month Thomson Airways – the first British carrier scheduled to take delivery of the Dreamliner – announced that it was delaying its May 1 launch of the aircraft.




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