Boeing 787 Dreamliner To Be Cleared for Liftoff

The FAA is reported to be satisfied with Boeing's fix for its lithium-ion battery problem

1 min read
Boeing 787 Dreamliner To Be Cleared for Liftoff

Three months after battery fires led to the grounding of Boeing's worldwide fleet of 787s, deliverance appears to be at hand: the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration seems happy with Boeing's proposed fix. According to The New York Times, the 50-odd planes already delivered will need only modest retrofitting in the form of extra insulation and a new venting system for the lithium-ion battery packs.

Lithium-ion batteries store more energy per unit of weight and of volume than the older, nickel-cadmium batteries, but that wasn't the main reason why Boeing opted for them. After all, batteries make up only a tiny share of an airliner's weight, even for the 787, which relies more on electricity for its operation than any other airliner in history. Designers liked the lithium-ion technology, rather, because it charges faster than nickel-cadmium and—ironically—because it was supposed to require less fuss. Of course, the problem with lithium-ion batteries is that are volatile. That's a fancy way of saying that once in a while, they explode in flames. 

Two months ago Boeing's archrival Airbus announced that its upcoming A350 airliner—an answer to the 787, both technologically and commercially—would revert to the tried-and-true nickle-cadmium battery. Airbus still exerts tight control over every step in making its planes. Boeing, however, ceded to its vendors not only much of the manufacturing but also a lot of design work for the 787. Some industry analysts blame the battery problems on this strategy.

Photos: NTSB, Boeing

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Top Tech 2023: A Special Report

These two dozen technical projects should make significant advances in the coming year

2 min read
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
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Each January, the editors of IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.

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