The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner was, at first, touted for its fuel efficiency and lavish comforts. Since its introduction, however, the Dreamliners have been grounded worldwide due to battery fire concerns. Airline accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn the public about the battery problems onboard these planes, which compromise critical flight systems.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner took its first flight in December 2009, and was introduced into commercial markets in 2011. In January 2013, a fire erupted from the lithium battery of one of the aircrafts, spewing flames and smoke so thick it took firefighters and mechanics nearly two hours to extinguish it. Nine days later, a similar battery incident forced an emergency landing in Japan.
Specifically, the fires compromised the auxiliary power unit (APU) of the aircraft, which is a lithium ion battery weighing about 65 pounds. Fortunately, the first fire, which took place at Boston’s Logan International Airport, erupted while the aircraft was empty. It started about six minutes after more than 180 passengers de-boarded, and only one minute after the flight crew walked off. The second incident, which occurred during a full flight, caused the battery to smolder but not catch flame, although the incident led to an emergency landing.
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The APU is absolutely critical to the flight systems as well as to the backup power systems, and the Dreamliner is the first aircraft to extensively use lithium ion batteries. These batteries were a big selling point for Boeing, because they are lighter, recharge faster, use less fuel, and can hold more energy than more traditional batteries. In reality, however, according to a M.I.T. materials chemistry professor, the older types of batteries would only add about 40 more pounds to the aircraft – the equivalent to one more suitcase.
In response to these problems, some safety experts are questioning the FAA’s ability to properly and expertly oversee new technology. The lithium batteries are known to short-circuit, and can ignite when recharged too far or during cold temperatures. Battery fires can be catastrophic, and lithium batteries are particularly volatile. Lithium batteries are the source of the numerous lawsuits surrounding Apple’s iPods, which can suddenly explode and burst into flames, causing third-degree burns in many consumers. More than 10 million laptops with lithium batteries were recalled in 2006 after many of them caught fire.
The problems surrounding these lithium batteries have also led to concerns over how federal regulators certify new designs, technologies, and advancements in commercial aircrafts. The FAA approved the Boeing in 2007, even though it had little information and experience with lithium batteries, and acknowledged that these types of batteries were more prone to fire. The FAA assumed that Boeing would perform the necessary tests and that computer control systems would prevent overcharging and overheating.
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The Air Line Pilots Association raised concerns that any fires in the APU systems during flight would be difficult to extinguish, and recommended that flight crews be given supplementary training. The FAA brushed these concerns aside, stating safeguards would better function as means for controlling fires.
A security videotape from Logan Airport showed white smoke pouring out from the underside of the aircraft, and firefighters reported no visibility, as smoke and liquid flowed from the area. Lithium batteries contain liquid, extremely flammable electrolytes. In an investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that it was uncertain if the safeguards were functioning properly.
United Airlines is currently the only American airline to carry the 787s. Although Boeing is allowing its customers to change their flights or receive refunds, very few have actually taken it up on this offer. Unfortunately, the simple reality is that Boeing failed to ensure that its new aircraft was safe before it was introduced onto global markets, and the FAA failed to properly oversee Boeing’s analyses.
Airplane accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn the public about the inherently dangerous batteries aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Aviation accidents are subject to an array of laws and regulations, so lawsuits are very specialized and complex. If you or someone you love was seriously injured in an aircraft accident, contact an experienced attorney, as you may be entitled to compensation.