When Boeing announced in 2009 that it would build a 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston, the aerospace giant became a major business partner of our community and state.
So now that Boeing faces a severe challenge with that aircraft, our community and state do, too.
But while there’s no benefit in pretending that the flaw in the Dreamliner’s lithium ion battery is a minor problem, there’s also no need to assume that it can’t be solved.
Boeing has already overcome many technical difficulties in developing and producing the innovative 787, which is designed for unprecedented fuel efficiency in such a large aircraft.
Now the company is investing major resources to find out and fix what’s wrong with its — with our — Dreamliners.
Though there have been only two serious incidents with Dreamliner batteries in the approximately 18,000 in-service flights so far, that’s two too many.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Agency is conducting an investigation of its own.
The FAA, properly alarmed by the two instances of burning batteries on 787s, ordered the grounding of Dreamliners on Jan. 16. Other nations’ aviation regulators have followed the U.S. lead.
On Jan. 7, a battery fire occurred in the rear auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 nearly a half hour after the plane landed at Boston Airport. Firefighters needed more than half an hour to extinguish it.
Nine days later, a battery fire on an All Nippon Airways 787 domestic flight in Japan forced it to make an emergency landing.
On Thursday in Washington, federal accident investigators said the 787 battery in the Boston case showed evidence of short-circuiting and “thermal runaway” — a chemical reaction in which higher temperatures trigger even higher ones.
However, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said it remained unclear which came first — the short-circuiting or the thermal runaway. As she put it: “We have to understand why this battery resulted in a fire when there were so many protections that were to be designed into the system.”
She added: “We are very concerned.”
So is Boeing.
Determining what started those battery fires, and making the changes necessary to assure the 787’s safety, is essential.
And considering the high stakes of Boeing’s business, the sooner the better.
Yet as Boeing officials rightly pointed out in a statement released Thursday night, the 787’s battery issue isn’t just about profits — and losses. Citing the “hundreds of engineering and technical experts who are working around the clock with the sole focus of resolving the issue and returning the 787 fleet to flight status,” the company stressed:
“The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is eager to see both investigative groups continue their work and determine the cause of these events, and we support their thorough resolution.”
So do Boeing’s partners here in South Carolina.