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Boeing Dreamliner Catches Fire In Boston 151

Posted by timothy
from the but-it's-not-even-warm-in-boston dept.
19061969 writes "The BBC reports that a Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire in Boston. Carter Leake, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets in Virginia, said, 'I don't want to be an alarmist, but onboard fires on airplanes are as bad as it gets.' This represents bad news for Boeing especially after the FAA identified errors in the assembly of fuel line couplings in the Dreamliner."
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Boeing Dreamliner Catches Fire In Boston

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  • by Cryacin (657549) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:08AM (#42517641)
    The dreamliner turns into a nightmare. Film at 11.
    • Re:With one fire (Score:4, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:51AM (#42518275)

      The dreamliner turns into a nightmare. Film at 11.

      The Dreamliner is one of the most sophisticated planes ever created. It's going to have problems. I don't think it's a "nightmare", as the FAA fully qualified it for flight. These are the kinds of problems you can only find when it's in production.

      • Re:With one fire (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @10:06AM (#42518507)

        Every commercial plane is "one of the most sophisticated" when its first created, as no customer will accept last years technology with last years performance.

        That said, there have been plenty of issues on the 787 which should not have made it to production - the QA issues that have hit over a dozen aircraft, numerous technical faults and electrical system issues etc etc etc. These are the things that the route proving part of the flight test regime are meant to find, but for some reason they haven't. If this most recent fire is due to a design fault rather than a production fault, then the FAA will be looking at their certification requirements more stringently, as they were updated for the 787s certification requirements.

        • Re:With one fire (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @10:31AM (#42518839)

          ... there have been plenty of issues on the 787 which should not have made it to production - the QA issues that have hit over a dozen aircraft, numerous technical faults and electrical system issues etc etc etc.

          I fully agree. Yes, all planes have issues when they're first deployed. For example, it was discovered that some parts of the wing structure on the A380 needed to be strengthened in order to meet the fatigue lifetime. However, this is not the kind of thing that would have caused failures in flight - it's a long term fatigue issue that was discovered years before it would have caused a problem. Issues like this are common since strength/fatigue vs. weight is such a difficult compromise on aircraft. 787 issues have been more the kind of thing that should have been fixed during design and testing.

          The problem with the 787, and the reason that it was years behind schedule and has so many problems, is that the executive geniuses at Boeing decided to outsource as much of the engineering as they could ("outsource" here referring to both domestic and offshore outsourcing). Many of the companies that engineering was outsourced to simply didn't have the expertise. Large airliners are not exactly the kind of thing that every job shop and subcontractor has the know-how to design. There are only two companies worth mentioning in the world that do.

          The only way they got the 787 out the door at all (and stemmed the financial bleeding of Boeing) was by taking emergency steps to find a large cadre of engineers who had decades of deep experience in airliner design. They found them at (surprise, surprise) Boeing! Golly, you mean there was some wisdom to the way the world's most successful airliner manufacturer has designed planes for decades? Whodda thunk it? No doubt the top execs at Boeing will get large bonuses for discovering this brilliant last minute solution, and blame Boeing engineering for the problems that do remain.

          • Re:With one fire (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @11:18AM (#42519535)

            Yes- this ^

            I live in Boeing's former home town (Seattle) and it may be sour grapes, but the buzz I hear here is that the other/new assembly site in South Carolina is an amateur hour kind of thing. Boeing set up shop there because of the union workers here, and the quality went away. I hear from labor and management folks both that Boeing is no longer in the aircraft business- they are now in the vendor management business, and there are no effective mechanisms for enforcing quality or delivery timeframes.

            • Re:With one fire (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Martin Blank (154261) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @11:33AM (#42519767) Journal

              There was an article a couple of years ago where Boeing said that "the process is the product." They truly believed that managing the process of building the plane was a more important product over the plane itself. I've seen so much of this kind of thing that I used it as an example of process management gone wrong where I worked, and it triggered an interesting discussion and some changes in how IT marketed itself to the rest of the enterprise.

            • Well, if quality "went away" with the new FAL in SC, then I hate to think just what those generating the "buzz" think is acceptable quality in the first place, considering some of the atrocious rubbish that happened on the Seattle FAL during the 787s development - fires, reworking after reworking after reworking, and now all of the QA issues which can be found on Seattle originated airframes (the QR and UA related fuel system issues for example)...

              Ouch, is all I can say.

            • Yes- this ^

              I live in Boeing's former home town (Seattle) and it may be sour grapes, but the buzz I hear here is that the other/new assembly site in South Carolina is an amateur hour kind of thing. Boeing set up shop there because of the union workers here, and the quality went away. I hear from labor and management folks both that Boeing is no longer in the aircraft business- they are now in the vendor management business, and there are no effective mechanisms for enforcing quality or delivery timeframes.

              While I do believe that the union's strikes were taken into account (and legally so), I find it hard to believe that it is an amatuer shop; there might be some learning curves for the folks, but they will get it and do just the same quality as those union folks - only, they'll probably turn out more than the union folks too.

            • Yes- this ^

              I live in Boeing's former home town (Seattle) and it may be sour grapes, but the buzz I hear here is that the other/new assembly site in South Carolina is an amateur hour kind of thing. Boeing set up shop there because of the union workers here, and the quality went away. I hear from labor and management folks both that Boeing is no longer in the aircraft business- they are now in the vendor management business, and there are no effective mechanisms for enforcing quality or delivery timeframes.

              Keep in mind also that only one plane (to Air India) has been delivered from SC. I doubt the one in Boston is from SC. Just saying, you can't blame the SC facility.

          • by kilodelta (843627)
            Very interesting post. Of course outsourcing cannot be applied to EVERY project. There's a certain amount of cultural knowledge that gets completely lost in the process when you're building something as complex as an airframe. And as you so point out, the Execs at Boeing completely screwed the pooch!
          • Re:With one fire (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @11:32AM (#42519761)

            The problem is, there are categories of problems which are acceptable to find after certification, and there are categories of problems which are not acceptable to find after certification - fatigue life issues that manifest after the initial certified inspection window (the window between certification and the first deep inspection of the first inservice airframes) are acceptable, because they do not pose an undue risk to the aircraft before they can be discovered. This is because the fatigue testing of a new airframe design continues well beyond that of the certification testing, which only tests for such things as ultimate strength etc while fatigue life, inspection periods etc are done off the basis of longer term testing.

            Components causing fires are in the category of things that should have been discovered during the certification period - there should be no risk from components like that for inservice aircraft, thats the point of certifying the compoments...

            Out of all the problems the Boeing 787 has suffered over its so far short life, the bulk of them have not been engineering issues - only two major issues have been linked to engineering quality, and that is the side of body join problem and the initial arcing problem which caused the first airborne 787 fire during testing.

            The 787s wing, designed and built by the Japanese, has proven to be better than expected spec wise.

            The 787 fuselage sections built by Spirit have proven to be bang on spec.

            There have been a few QA issues with the empennage and other parts, but nothing major.

            The major problems stem from the decision to roll out the 787 as an essentially mocked up CFRP model on the 7/8/07 - rather than wait for the build process to proceed in the planned stages, management pushed for the aircraft to be ready for the public reveal. This lead to non-aviation-grade materials to be used to mock it up, and the aircraft had to be essentially rebuilt in the most difficult way possible afterward. This management decision made a 3 month delay into a 18 month delay.

        • Every commercial plane is "one of the most sophisticated" when its first created

          And which automobiles have the most obscure, complicated, frequent problems? It's the super advanced once with 500 sensors and 1000 stupid, needless features.

    • Of course the next line would be: "If you thought the Dreamliner was flaming before, just wait until you hear what happened in Boston."
      I think this is the end of anyone ever flying on it. One little tiny fire or malfunction and customers write it off as a death trap for decades and the tickets are unsellable. They might as well paint Hindenburg on it at this point.
      • The flights sell out regularly, quickly, and well ahead of the flight times. Despite this, I'm still planning on flying on one on a trip in either April or May.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why am I reminded of the novel "Airframe"?

  • MSM Strikes Again (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    No idea how the fire started. No clue if it's a design issue or maintenance error. Scare quote from someone who's not in the airline industry. Check, check, and check.

    • Re:MSM Strikes Again (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dupple (1016592) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:23AM (#42517871)

      From TFA

      "The fire started after a battery in the jet's auxiliary power system overheated."

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20942484 [bbc.co.uk]

      • Re:MSM Strikes Again (Score:4, Informative)

        by X0563511 (793323) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:32AM (#42518007) Homepage Journal

        Totally unqualified "educated" guess: crew left the APU on even though it's supposed to be off after the engines are up to speed?

        From what simulation and speaking with pilots I've gathered, usually you are "supposed" to turn the APU off after engine starts, though usually this is not done as it consumes a tiny fraction of fuel and gives you some wiggle room in the event of an engine failure.

        • by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:44AM (#42518169) Homepage

          If leaving an APU turned on causes a catastrophic loss of the aircraft, then there is a design flaw.

          However, I don't see how leaving one on should cause a battery to overheat. The batteries should be on circuits that limit currents appropriately, whether charging or discharging. This is an aircraft - not a plastic toy.

          • by timeOday (582209)
            I agree it's a design flaw, but is it something that could happen during-flight?
            • by Luckyo (1726890)

              Considering that fire appears to have started in the battery of the APU, it could be a possibility. Battery fires are notorious for being somewhat unpredictable.

              • by N!k0N (883435)
                Boeing sourced their batteries from Dell?
              • by Rich0 (548339)

                Looking at the details that have emerged, the accident occurred after the crew had left the plane. I can't imagine they'd leave an APU on with the plan unmanned - the plane should either be powered off completely, or running off of external power/air (which means nothing that draws fuel would be turned on within the plane - external power/air just keeps the lights on and the air temp regulated - purely electrical/pneumatic systems).

          • by kilodelta (843627)
            I recall a certain horror flight a few years ago. It wasn't the danger element but the frustration and boredom element.

            We were coming from Norfolk, VA to Dulles. Driving to the airport I noted it was a stormy, rainy day and I commented that there was no way in hell we'd get back up north before the next day. How right I was!

            We arrived at Dulles after our connecting flight for PVD had already left. Lovely. So I tried to get us on a Boston based flight. Sure enough, a 6PM flight to Logan was available a
        • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:53AM (#42518309)

          The aircraft wasn't departing, it had just arrived and the passengers and crew had deplaned.

          Also, no certified crew on a commercial carrier leaves the APU running after its needed - it takes up substantially more than a "tiny fraction of fuel" and leaving it on for even a short haul flight can cost the operator thousands of dollars in extra fuel costs for just that one flight.

          Here's a more educated guess: faulty battery underwent thermal runaway and caught fire, causing a minor explosion and a heck of a lot of smoke.

        • Re:MSM Strikes Again (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Nidi62 (1525137) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:57AM (#42518373)

          Totally unqualified "educated" guess: crew left the APU on even though it's supposed to be off after the engines are up to speed?

          From what simulation and speaking with pilots I've gathered, usually you are "supposed" to turn the APU off after engine starts, though usually this is not done as it consumes a tiny fraction of fuel and gives you some wiggle room in the event of an engine failure.

          Seeing as how the plane was at the gate and the passengers from the ariving flight had deplaned, the engines better not have been up to speed or they would have had bigger problems. Usually if the APU is on while in the gate, it is because ground power is not available. This can happen, but running the APU is much more expensive than electrical ground power. As an educated guess (since I actually work on a ramp) I would assume the APU was not on. If the APU wasn't on, then a fire in the APU battery is definitely not good.

          • by green1 (322787)

            I guess the biggest question is still, could it happen in flight? (for example, if the issue was due to a charging circuit on that battery connected to the ground power, then in flight issues seem highly unlikely, however if it was a spontaneous short circuit or something then it could happen in flight and that is "really bad" (TM))

            • by Nidi62 (1525137)
              To me, having not read much about it or being in any way an aircraft mechanic, the answer to that would depend on whether the APU was operating or not. If no, then it could happen in flight. If not, then shouldn't, as the APU is only activated on the ground.
    • by alen (225700)

      yeah, but this is a BBC story so you should trust it at face value

  • Lithium ion battery (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:19AM (#42517803) Homepage Journal

    It was one of the two large lithium ion battery packs the power the plane when the engines are off. The FCC and pilots were already concerned about the use of lithium ion batteries for this purpose (apparently it's a first), and they issued special regulations just for this plane.

    Also the only person on board when this happened was a mechanic (which is probably a good thing at least someone was able to spot the smoke right away).

    • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:23AM (#42517865)
      It could've been worse, at least the battery fire occured after it landed. Statistically speaking, flying in an airplane is still far safer than flying in your own bathtub.
      • by Sez Zero (586611)
        But if it was the ground power battery pack that powers the plane when the engines are off, how likely would it have started while flying?
        • by DieByWire (744043) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @10:10AM (#42518565)

          But if it was the ground power battery pack that powers the plane when the engines are off, how likely would it have started while flying?

          The battery in question doesn't power the aircraft. It's used to power the control circuitry and starter of the auxilary power unit (APU). The APU is a small turbine engine used to generate electrical power and high pressure bleed air for engine starting, or if additional electrical power is needed in flight ( follwing a generator failure, for example.)

          I can't speak specifically to the 787, but APU batteries are typically always connected and kept charged in case you need to start the APU without any other source of power. I would assume it can be remotely disconnected as it can be on other aircraft, but once the battery is on fire electrically isolating it is not going to solve your woes.

          An inflight fire, especially in an aircraft that could be three hours from shore, is a scary, scary thing.

          • by slinches (1540051) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @11:55AM (#42520179)

            What you stated is generally true, but the 787 is somewhat of a special case. It uses a no-bleed [boeing.com] APU system which replaces most of the traditionally bleed-driven systems (e.g. engine start, cabin air and wing anti-icing) with electrical equivalents and probably needs a larger set of batteries and higher current (and/or voltage) wiring.

            • by DieByWire (744043)
              Interesting - I knew the engines were no bleed but didn't realize the APU was also. Nevertheless, the point I was trying to make is that the APU battery is used for the APU, not for powering the whole aircraft when the engines are shutdown, and that it stays powered and charging even when the APU is not in use.
          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            Whatever happened to ejecting the warp core like on Star Trek? Just drop the flaming battery pack out the bottom of the aircraft, separate the saucer section and all is well.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          It is something you would only have to worry about until you got to the crash site~

      • by operagost (62405)
        Or using a Sony laptop [techcrunch.com].
      • by VorpalRodent (964940) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @10:51AM (#42519125)
        I was considering lauding your rigorous statistics, but I can't find anything to support it. The closest thing I can find is the fact that there have been zero deaths of human cannonballs in the last 18 months. This suggests to me that flying in nothing at all is better than flying in an airplane. While ducks and other seasonal game may disagree on the point, I would think that most other birds would agree that plane-less flight is actually safer on a per-mile basis.

        Besides, bathtubs can't fly. That's just silly.
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      AFAIK it's probably the most advanced passenger plane ever built, with a host of new techs and new ways of doing things.

      That suggests it's going to have some teething issues.

    • You probably mean the FAA. I don't think the FCC has anything to do with regulating airplanes or batteries.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Citing a thing like "FAA identified errors in the assembly of fuel line couplings in the Dreamliner." when the actual fire, according to this morning's Boston Globe, was "[a] Small electrical fire..."

    The article continues with "...no indication of smoke...", "...cleaners ...smelled smoke, notifying a mechanic...", and "...mechanic ... traced the smoke to a unit that powers the plain when it is on the ground with the engines off, but was unable to extinguish it."

    • by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:53AM (#42518305) Homepage Journal
      Citing a thing like "FAA identified errors in the assembly of fuel line couplings in the Dreamliner." when the actual fire, according to this morning's Boston Globe, was "[a] Small electrical fire..."
      This article brought to you by Airbus Industries.
      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        The problem with "small electrical fires" is that they tend to become "large electrical fires" and eventually "catastrophic electrical fires" as fire propagates along electric cables quite fast.

      • Citing a thing like "FAA identified errors in the assembly of fuel line couplings in the Dreamliner." when the actual fire, according to this morning's Boston Globe, was "[a] Small electrical fire..." This article brought to you by Airbus Industries.

        Well, for the Airbus they probably would have had to enter in a dozen codes, several two user keys, and more just to release the fire surpressent.

  • by udippel (562132) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:39AM (#42518111)

    Make it serious square. From what we have been told until here, at least.
    First factor, fire is the last thing you want on a plane. Over.
    Second factor, fire without clear-cut reason is what you don't want.
    The commentator who seemingly played the matter down "The only person on board ..." is mistaken. If a plane can experience its batteries overheating beyond the temperature that incenses wild fire, without shutting the batteries off beforehand (no temperature control??), and when almost not in service (passengers and crew disembarked), it not airworthy at all.
    In this sense webmistressrachel's comment is uncalled for. Losing a wing or pressure due to a collision is in a sense 'more normal'. Because the reason is clear-cut. But a fire out of the blue is simply a 'must not, ever'.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      First factor, fire is the last thing you want on a plane. Over.

      hmm, small fire in the lavatory or wings falling off, which would I rather have... decisions, decisions.

      Yes this was on the ground, but I hate absolutes... without exception~

      "Because the reason is clear-cut"
      actually, planes fails do to a succession of unlikely events.
      And they are no more or less 'normal'.

      The ONLY comparison that is valid is "It would have been worse in the air."
      They question is Can this happen in the air?
      and no., just becasue ti

  • Well, wait, how big of a fire are we talking here? If you go by the saying "where there's smoke there's fire," then I'd much rather have a guy sparking up in the bathroom (which people used to be able to do without hiding in the bathroom) over the plane FUCKING CRASHING INTO THE GROUND.
    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      About the only way for that plane to "crash into the ground" would be if the landing gear somehow broke. The plane was sitting on the ground when fire started.

  • by Quila (201335) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:56AM (#42518361)

    you could open a window

  • "I don't want to be an alarmist, but we're all gonna die." Ok... Got it.
  • The next release will fix some of the most obvious bugs.
  • Were they on it like fans, players, etc.? :P

  • Another One Today (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelJ (140077) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @01:10PM (#42521397)
    Another Dreamliner just got a fuel leak and dumped a good mess all over a taxiway at Logan until the engine was shut down. Not a good week for 787s in Boston.
  • that in order to fix this problem, don't go to Boston~

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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