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Bad News for The Boeing Company (BA): The Dreamliner’s Battery Is a Nightmare

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The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA)‘s 787 Dreamliner just returned to the skies after a four-month grounding, but already there’s trouble. The director of the Airline Pilots’ Association of Japan, Toshikazu Nagasawa, said that pilots weren’t satisfied with the changes The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) made to it’s lithium-ion battery and are concerned that they won’t receive appropriate in-flight warnings if there’s an issue. Some scientists and battery experts are also expressing concern about the safety of Boeing’s battery.

The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA)

Officials at All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines said they’re satisfied with The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA)’s changes and have resumed flights, but investors may have cause for concern knowing that that the pilots — the people whose lives depend on the safety of Boeing’s battery — aren’t satisfied. Here’s what you need to know.

Source: H. Michael Miley, Wikimedia Commons.

Are the issues in the past?
In March, Japanese pilots raised 30 safety concerns about the Dreamliner. One of their major concerns was that they didn’t think Boeing had provided enough proof that the 787 would be safe to fly if the batteries failed. They also expressed concern that the warning indicator for a battery malfunction didn’t indicate the severity of the problem.

More recently, the pilots’ group expressed concern that The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) didn’t figure out what caused the problems with the batteries in the first place and is now downplaying the battery’s necessity for flight. Consequently, the group challenged Boeing to conduct flight tests without the lithium-ion battery to prove its safety.

Boeing’s vice president and the chief project engineer for the 787, Mike Sinnett, addressed these issues by saying the Dreamliner has backup systems that allow it to continue flying if the batteries fail, and that the warning indicators were ranked by severity, but these assurances have done little to quell the pilots’ concerns.

Scientists add fuel to the fire
Battery experts and scientists have also publicly questioned the safety of The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA)’s battery. Elton Cairns, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory professor and battery technology expert, said: “I’m shocked that The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) was willing to stake its reputation on these batteries. Even with the modifications, the individual cells of the battery are crammed too closely together and feature an internal chemistry that’s far too volatile.”

More pointedly, Michel Armand, a professor of chemistry at the University of Picardie and a research director at the French government’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, told Barron’s: “Using these batteries in planes makes no sense, with all the lives potentially at stake. These batteries are unpredictable and prone to thermal runaway and fires.”

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