Showing posts with label battery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label battery. Show all posts

23 August 2013

Fire danger from Honeywell ELTs may exist on aircraft beyond the 787

After last month's fire involving the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) on a Ethiopian 787 in London, the FAA and other regulatory agencies around the world have ordered that these ELTs be deactivated, inspected, or removed. The ELT on that aircraft was manufactured by Honeywell, which has produced about 6,000 ELTs for use in aircraft around the world.

A recent airworthiness directive from Transport Canada airworthiness directive (AD), which takes effect on 26 August 2013, has gone a step further, requiring that Honeywell ELTs on a variety of aircraft be inspected by the end of 2013. Transport Canada stated that the AD was issued as a precautionary measure to address the possibility of a fire due to wiring installation discrepancies of the ELT system. Depending on the outcome of the AAIB investigation, Transport Canada may revise the AD or mandate additional corrective actions.

Affected aircraft
Previous directives from the UK and US authorities were limited to the 787. This latest Canadian AD covers a much wider range of aircraft, including the Boeing models 717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, MD11, MD80 and MD90; and the Airbus models A300, A310, A320, A321, A330, A340 and A380.

Other countries following Canada's lead
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also adopted the Canadian AD. According to various media reports, the FAA also plans to issue a similar AD for US-registered aircraft.

Why ELT fires are potentially catastrophic
As was described in some detail in an earlier article on the Ethiopian 787 event, fire caused by an ELT would be particularly worrisome because these devices, unlike other systems such as engines and auxiliary power units, do not come equipped with fire suppression systems, and they are typically located in parts of the aircraft that are inaccessible from the cabin. In the event of an in flight fire, it may not be possible to put out the fire, and it may spread to other parts of the aircraft.

In the event of an onboard fire, typical emergency procedures include landing at the closest suitable airport, but if the fire occurred if the aircraft were far from a a suitable airport, which would be the case for many transatlantic or transpacific flights, passengers and crew could be exposed to large amounts of smoke and fumes for a significant amount of time.

In such a situation, emergency oxygen systems may not have been useful for passengers since these systems are typically designed to supply passenger with a combination of oxygen from the emergency oxygen system and ambient air from the cabin, including any smoke or fumes that are present in the cabin.

26 July 2013

Disturbing implications of the recent 787 fire in London

The recent 787 fire at Heathrow Airport in London appeared at first to be a relatively minor event with a limited impact beyond the aircraft involved. However, when the investigative authority, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the UK, released its preliminary report on the event, the recommendations that were made implied that the problem had the potential to be far more serious had it occurred in flight.

Key findings of the AAIB report
The initial AAIB report, stated that the fire damage coincided with the location of the emergency locator transmitter (ELT), and although the AAIB did not state that the ELT was the source of the fire, the aircraft was unpowered at the time of the fire, and no other aircraft systems in the area contained an energy source capable of starting a fire. The ELT is designed to operate without any power from the aircraft's electrical system, and is powered by a set of chemical batteries using a Lithium-Manganese Dioxide (LiMnO2) composition. This kind of battery represents a different technology from the lithium-ion batteries associated with the fires on two different 787 aircraft in January 2013.

What the fire fighters encountered in London
According to the AAIB, when fire fighters entered the aircraft through the front left door (the 787 has four pairs of doors), they encountered thick smoke and had to open at least two other cabin doors to clear the smoke. They were unable to extinguish the fire with a handheld Halon fire extinguisher, and had to forcibly remove a ceiling panel and use water from a fire hose to put out the fire. While this was apparently not an complicated procedure for the fire crews on the ground, it could have been an entirely different situation had this occurred in the air.

Visible external damage to 787 in London

Why a fire in flight would have been much more dangerous
The AAIB investigation is ongoing, and the organization has not identified the ELT as the source of the fire. However, if the ELT turns out to be the source of this particular fire, it raises the very disturbing possibility that this kind of fire could have occurred not just on the ground in an empty aircraft, but also while the aircraft was in the air. This could potentially be a far more serious event in the air for the following reasons:

  • Unlike on the ground, opening one or more doors to evacuate smoke is not an option in flight,
  • While there are handheld fire extinguishers in the cabin that flight attendants can use in an emergency, equipment or other tools suitable for removing ceiling panels are not typically available to cabin crew.
  • While the fire fighters in the London incident had access to water hoses to put out the fire, no such option would be available to an airborne 787.
  • in the event of an onboard fire, typical emergency procedures include landing at the closest suitable airport, but since the 787 often flies on routes that are an hour or more from a suitable airport, passengers and crew could be exposed to large amounts of smoke and fumes for a significant amount of time.
  • Emergency oxygen systems may not have been useful for passengers since these systems are typically designed to supply supplemental oxygen, in other words, passenger would be breathing a combination of oxygen from the emergency oxygen system and ambient air from the cabin, including any smoke or fumes that are present in the cabin.

A nightmare scenario
Simply put, the aforementioned conditions imply that had this event occurred in the middle of a flight, the cabin crew may have been unable to reach the source of the fire, and even if they did, they may not have been able to put the fire out. The aircraft involved in the fire at London's Heathrow airport sustained damage to the composite structure of that airplane's fuselage. Conceivably, if the fire had been allowed to burn for a significant amount of time, a situation that could have occurred had the airplane been inflight, the fire could have led to significant damage to the aircraft's systems, or could have caused the aircraft to lose its structural integrity. Either outcome could have led to the loss of the aircraft and all on board.

An additional twist to this story
While the previous scenario may be disturbing to the average passenger, what may cause additional concerns, especially to aircraft manufacturers and airline operators, is the possible role of the ELT in the fire in London. This is a system that is noteworthy for not being a source problems that could lead to the loss of an airliner. In fact, according to the AAIB, the manufacturer of the ELT involved in the London fire, Honeywell, has produced some 6,000 ELT units of the design used in the Ethiopian 787 involved in the London fire event, and that event is the first incident where the ELT system generated a significant level of heat.

Actions taken to deal with the threat
Following the recommendations of the AAIB, the FAA and other regulatory agencies around the world have ordered that 787 ELTs be deactivated, inspected, or removed. Until the AAIB, Boeing, and Honeywell figure out the role played by the ELT in the London fire, questions will remain as to whether the 787 ELT represents an unexpected and potentially fatal risk to 787 passengers.

18 July 2013

AAIB releases bulletin on 787 fire plus additional 777 crash interviews

On 18 July 2013, the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released a special bulletin related to the 12 July 2013 fire on an Ethiopian Airlines 787 at London's Heathrow airport. The AAIB made two safety recommendations, the first was to advise the FAA to initiate action to have 787 operators deactivate the emergency locator transmitter (ELT), and the second was to have the FAA conduct a safety review of the installation of ELTs in other aircraft where the ELTs are also powered by lithium batteries.

While the AAIB does not have any authority to implement these recommendations, it is very likely that the FAA, Boeing, and all of the 787 operators will respond relatively quickly to the recommendations.

AAIB summary of the fire
The AAIB special bulletin contained the following key information about the events leading up to the fire:

  • The Ethiopian Airlines 787 landed at Heathrow at 0527 hours on 12 July 2013 after an uneventful flight, with no technical problems reported by the crew.

  • After it was towed to a parking area, external power was turned off, and the aircraft was left unpowered.

  • An employee in the air traffic control tower noticed smoke coming from the aircraft at 1534 hours, and fire fighters arrived about one minute later.

  • After a fire crew entered the aircraft, they observed indications of fire above the ceiling panels, and had to move a ceiling panel in order to put out the fire.

  • A later examination revealed extensive heat damage in the rear fuselage in the crown area, just to the left of the centerline, an area which coincided with the location of the ELT.

  • The ELT, which was powered by a set of chemical batteries containing a Lithium-Manganese Dioxide composition, was the only aircraft system in that area that had the potential to initiate a fire when the aircraft was unpowered.

About emergency locator transmitters
ELTs are battery-powered radio transmitters that are carried aboard airliners, other civil aircraft, and most military aircraft. Thay are designed to survive most accidents, and to transmit a signal that can be used by rescue crews and even satellite-based monitors to locate a crash site. The FAA requires the use of ELTs on commercial airliners.

According to the AAIB, the manufacturer of the ELT associated with the recent 787 fire (Honeywell) has produced about 6,000 ELTs for use in a wide range of aircraft, and this the first time the manufacturer has what the AAIB calls a 'thermal event.'

The ELTs used by Boeing in the 787 are all made by Honeywell, and they are powered by a set of five non-rechargeable batteries, each of which is roughly the size of a common household "D" cell battery.

What's next for the 787
There are currently 68 787 aircraft flying with 13 operators around the world. Although the FAA has not made a formal request for airlines to implement the AAIB recommendations, it is likely that Boeing and the airlines will take action relatively quickly. If the recommended actions are taken, in the short term 787s may be flying without ELTs.

While flying without ELTs may make it harder to find an aircraft that has an emergency in an unpopulated area, the FAA can allow airliners to fly for short periods of time without a working ELT, so implementing these AAIB recommendations will likely not cause the FAA to ground the 787. Other regulatory bodies around the world typically follow the actions of the FAA in situations such as this one.

Media interviews with Dr. Todd Curtis about the Asiana 777 crash
The following three interviews with Dr. Curtis were made in the days immediately following the crash of Asiana flight 214

- WGN radio - The Dean Richards show on 8 July 2013
- Bloomberg television interview 8 July 2013

CCTV America 8 July 2013

Additional information

17 July 2013

Update on 787 fire in London plus radio interview on 777 crash

Update on the 12 July 2013 787 fire in London
On 12 July 2013, an Ethiopian Airlines 787 caught fire while parked on an apron at London's Heathrow Airport. There were no passengers on the aircraft at the time of the fire, and no one was injured or killed.

The initial witness and physical evidence shows that this event resulted in smoke throughout the fuselage and extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage. The photo below shows that the fire burned through the top of the fuselage in the rear of the aircraft between the two rear doors and near the base of the vertical fin.

(click to enlarge)

The British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is investigating the fire, and has not yet released any statement about the likely causes of the fire. However, several things are known about the investigation:

  • The aircraft had arrived from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia about nine hours before the fire was discovered.

  • In addition to the AAIB, participants in the investigation include the FAA, NTSB, the Civil Aviation Authority of Ethiopia, Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines, and Honeywell International.

  • Honeywell is the manufacturer of the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) used in the 787.

  • The battery in the ELT is based on a lithium manganese-dioxide technology and not on the lithium-ion technology associated with the batteries that caught fire on two different 787 aircraft in January 2013.

  • The fire was in the rear of the fuselage, and was remote from the areas of the aircraft containing the main battery and the auxiliary power unit batteries, the batteries associated with the grounding of the entire 787 fleet earlier this year.

Dr. Todd Curtis interviewed by eFM radio in South Korea
In the following July 15, 2013 interview on the South Korean eFM radio show Prime Time with Henry Shinn, Dr. Todd Curtis discussed several issues associated with the ongoing investigation into the July 6, 2013 crash of an Asiana 777 in San Francisco, CA, including speculation about the cause of the crash, the role of automated systems in the cockpit, and the NTSB investigative process. Many of the issues raised in this interview included questions about the 777 crash answered in a previous article.

Additional information

19 May 2013

JAL 787 damaged by battery fire apparently needed extensive repairs

After an ANA and JAL 787 aircraft experienced battery fires in January 2013, the entire fleet of 49 aircraft was grounded while the problem was diagnosed and an acceptable plan for fixing returning the aircraft to service was developed. While Boeing did come up with a repair plan that was acceptable to the FAA, it appears that the JAL 787 that experienced a battery fire in Boston had to also go through a very extensive set of repairs before it could return to service.

Electrical system changes
As described in an earlier article, Boeing and the battery manufacturer have made a number of FAA-required changes to the 787, including the installation of a redesigned battery, that the FAA estimated would take about 113 work hours to complete.

Several media outlets, including the BBC and New York Times, reported that during an interview in late April 2013, Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, stated that the Boeing modification kit would take about five days to install. Given the estimate of 113 work-hours from the FAA, that implies that a small team of maintenance personnel could put the aircraft back in service within that time frame. However, for the JAL aircraft that caught fire in Boston, that has clearly not been the case.

The aircraft has been grounded in Boston since its APU battery caught fire on January 7th, and was still on the ground at least until May 12th, over two weeks after the first updated 787 returned to service. The aircraft was parked outside near one of the airport terminals, and could be easily seen from several public vantage points.

As you can see the photo below, there was a large tent erected next to the 787, presumably associated with the aircraft repair. According to one eyewitness, a second, similarly sized tent, had been recently removed, and had be in place for a number of days.

No public reports of repair efforts
Although the NTSB has an ongoing major investigation associated with the 787 battery fire event, no final report has been published, and the information currently on the NTSB site does not mention any significant damage to the aircraft beyond the structures and systems close the battery that caught fire. Neither Boeing, JAL, or Massport, the organization the manages Boston's Logan Airport, have released any statement to the public about any significant additional aircraft damage.

Share what you know
If you have direct knowledge of what may have been going on with the JAL 787 in Boston, specifically details about any repairs that may have been performed on this grounded 787, please feel free to contact at

27 April 2013

787 Dreamliners return to service

More than three months after being grounded by the FAA and by other aviation authorities around the world due to a pair of battery fire incidents, the 787 is flying once again. While US and Japanese investigations into the causes of the fires continue, the FAA has allowed the 787 to return to service once airlines install a number of required changes to the electrical system. These changes would either reduce or eliminate the likelihood of a battery problem, or would reduce the impact of a problem if it were to occur in the future.

Battery system problems
On January 7th of this year, a JAL 787 that was parked at the gate at Boston's Logan Airport had a battery fire in the aft electronics equipment bay. The fire produced a significant amount of smoke, but only a minor amount of damage. At the time, the aircraft had only a maintenance crew on board. Later that month, on January 16th, an ANA 787 experienced a battery fire in the forward electrical equipment bay while in flight, leading to an unscheduled landing and evacuation of passengers and crew by emergency slides.

During the 787 certification process, Boeing estimated that the battery would have an event that would emit smoke roughly once every 10 million flight hours. The two January 2013 battery smoke events occurred after only about 52,000 flight hours for the worldwide 787 fleet, a frequency that was roughly 190 times the predicted rate.

Electrical system changes
Boeing and the battery manufacturer have made a number of FAA-required changes to the electrical system, primarily to the battery systems that uses lithium ion batteries to power aircraft electronics and other aircraft systems like the auxiliary power unit. The changes are meant to prevent similar battery failures, or to contain the effects should they occur in the future:

  • Redesigned lithium ion battery that features a lower operating temperature
  • Addition of a sealed, stainless steel battery enclosure to help contain smoke and heat from a fire
  • Replacement of the battery chargers.
  • Installation of a venting system that would allow any smoke of fumes from a fire to vent outside of the aircraft.
  • An FAA Airworthiness Directive about the required changes estimated that the costs to implement the changes for the six aircraft covered by the AD (United Airlines 787s) would be about $2.8 million.

Return to service
The first operator to return the aircraft to service was Ethiopian Airlines on April 27, 2013. Other carries with grounded 787s will return their aircraft over the next few months, with Air India and United Airlines likely returning their aircraft. Boeing is sending teams around the world to put those changes in place, and any newly delivered aircraft will incorporate these changes.

Battery fire investigations
Both the NTSB and the JTSB continue to investigate the cause of the battery fires in the US and Japan. On April 23-24, 2013, the NTSB held an investigative hearing involving the FAA, Boeing, and the battery manufacturers. While the NTSB concluded that the original battery certification tests were inadequate, there was no determination of the probable cause of the battery fire in Boston. It is likely that it may be several months before the NTSb or the JTSB reach a conclusion about the cause of the fire.

16 February 2013

Video of webinar on 787 battery fire investigation now available

Dr. Todd Curtis of hosted a 14 February 2013 webinar discussed the January 2013 grounding of the entire 787 fleet after two serious fires on a JAL and ANA 787 involving lithium ion batteries. Dr. Curtis summarized the status of the investigations by the NTSB and JTSB, and explains the process that Boeing and the airlines will go through in order to return the aircraft to service.

Previous Articles
Should passengers fear the 787? - 18 January 2013
FAA orders comprehensive review - 11 January 2013
What's wrong with the 787? - 9 January 2013

For additional information on the 787 investigation, including links to the ongoing investigation of the NTSB, visit

18 January 2013

Should passengers fear the 787?

Should you be afraid to fly on the 787? If you listen to or read some of the more dramatic stories from some media outlets, the 787 is a flying death trap that should scare the living daylights out of anyone who is even thinking of flying in one.

The FAA and other civil aviation organizations have taken the rare step of grounding an entire fleet of aircraft until a thorough investigation can find the cause of several recent incidents, most notably battery fires that occurred in two different 787 aircraft over the last couple of weeks, including a fire earlier this week that led to the evacuation of the 787 pictured below.

While the investigation continues, more than a few major media outlets are painting a rather dire picture, speculating that there may be serious, even fatal flaws in the aircraft design that could ruin the program, make airlines and passengers abandon the aircraft, and even bankrupt Boeing.

Is all this speculation supported by any facts? It is too early to tell. It could turn out that the worst fear mongering of the most irresponsible media outlets could turn out to be true. Perhaps it could also turn out that there is no serious problem at all, and within a few days the problem will be fixed and the 787 will be flying again.

The reality is that the truth will likely be somewhere between these two extremes, and the if the history of previous introductions of new airline models is any guide, it is very likely that end of the story of the 787 grounding will have an ending that is closer to the more benign extreme.

If you are a concerned future 787 passenger, what should you do? You should pay attention to the unfolding story and make up your own mind on whether you want to fly on a 787. Based on what usually happens in in the world of aircraft development, the story will most likely unfold in the following way:

  • Boeing, the current 787 customers, the FAA, the NTSB, and the Japanese aviation authorities, as well as other relevant parties, will get together and share relevant data about the design, certification, assembly, and operation of the 787.

  • Dozens or perhaps hundreds of the appropriate experts will work together to figure out what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what has to be done to fix the problem.

  • The FAA and Boeing will require that airline operators take a number of specific actions to resolve the key 787 issues, and all of these requirements will be openly shared with the general public.

  • The changes will be made, the aircraft will return to service, and all the relevant parties will follow the 787 very closely to ensure that the changes worked.

  • Sometime in the next few weeks or few months, normal production and service will resume.

My prediction is that as the investigation process moves forward, the media and concerned passengers will pay less and less attention to potential 787 safety issues.

Is this what will happen with the 787? Only time will tell, but if the past is any guide, the scenario laid out here will be the one you will most likely see.

Photo credit: Reuters

09 November 2011

How to Fly with a Sex Toy

Last month, writer and attorney Jill Filipovic was on an international flight from Newark, NJ to Dublin, Ireland, and upon arrival found in her checked bag a printed advisory from the TSA stating that her bag had been opened and inspected by the TSA. In the margin of the note, a TSA screener added an extra message saying "Get your freak on girl." The checked bag had contained a sex toy, and presumably the message was related to the presence of that device.

The extra inspection of a checked bag was a normal TSA procedure. The additional comments were not part of a normal procedure, and TSA representative Kawika Riley later apologized for that screener's behavior and described it as "highly inappropriate and unprofessional." That TSA screener was later fired.

Issues brought up by this incident
This incident brings up two important issues for passengers. First, the legal rights passengers have when it comes to traveling with sex toys, and second, how passengers can travel safely travel with these items.

What is a sex toy?
A sex toy is an object or device that is primarily used to enhance or facilitate sexual pleasure. Sex toys include things like dildos and vibrators, and can be made from a variety of materials, including glass, wood, plastic, silicone, or latex. While some sex toys are designed to resemble male or female human genitals, many are not. Also, while many other common items may have a secondary use as a sex toy, this article is focused on those items that have been designed to be used primarily as a sex toy.

What are the laws or rules concerning air travel with sex toys?
The laws, rules, and regulations concerning travel with sex toys depend on where you travel. In general, when you travel domestically within a country, you should observe the appropriate laws and regulations of that country. When you travel between countries, you have to consider the laws of the country you are traveling from, the country you are traveling to, and any country you may be passing through on the way to your destination.

In the US, when it comes to flying on airliners or going through TSA security, the only limits that matter are the normal limits on hazardous or banned items. While there may be local or state laws restricting the possession of sex toys, there are no federal restrictions on ownership. If you review's page on prohibited and restricted items, you will see that the TSA would likely not have a reason to ban most sex toys.

Tips for traveling with sex toys
There are a number of common sense things that you can do to protect your sex toys and to limit the likelihood that the TSA will cause you any embarrassment or excessive delays:
  • Tell the truth: If a TSA screener asks you what is in your baggage just say what it is.
  • Remove batteries: This suggestion applies to any battery-powered item in your baggage that won't be used in flight.

  • Put your items in separate clear plastic bags: Keeping items in Ziploc type bags keeps them from being contaminated by handling by TSA screeners.

  • Don't pack banned items: Most sharp items, and liquid filled or gel filled items are typically banned from carry on baggage, but can be packed in checked luggage.
Complaining about your treatment
Although traveling with sex toys is completely legal in the US, you may still encounter TSA officials whose conduct toward you may be rude or unprofessional. If this happens at a security screening area, you should immediately request to see a supervisor to discuss the matter. You also have several options for submitting a formal complaint. You could email the TSA’s Contact Center at:, or if you believe you have been the target of discriminatory conduct you contact the TSA Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.

For detailed advice on how to complain about your treatment, you may want to review's complaint resources at

Listen to the podcast episode
Get the Baggage and Security Guide

21 May 2009

Update to " What You Are Not Allowed to Take on an Airplane" Page recently updated "What You Are Not Allowed to Take on an Airplane" page to include specific information about carrying batteries and also to include an update to the TSA's list of banned or prohibited items.

The most important change was the addition of a section on batteries, with specific details on what kinds of batteries are allowed only in carry on baggage, and what kinds can be carried in checked baggage.

For details, visit the page at