NTSB to host Boeing hearing Session will include public forum

Joseph Kolly, director National Transportation Safety Board Office of Research and Engineering, holds an fire-damaged battery casing from the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner that caught fire in January at Logan International Airport in Boston. An investigation shows mechanics and firefighters made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to put out the blaze through smoke so thick they couldn’t see the battery. (AP/File)

The National Transportation Safety Board will host a public forum and a hearing next month to address a post-flight battery fire aboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 two months ago.

The forum will explore lithium-ion battery technology, one of many cutting-edge features of the 787, in the context of transportation safety, according to an agency press release. The investigative hearing, which will be held in Washington, D.C., will focus on the design of the 787 battery system and the special conditions of its certification.

“The information developed through the upcoming forum and the hearing will help the NTSB and the entire transportation community better understand the risks and benefits associated with lithium batteries, and illuminate how manufacturers and regulators evaluate the safety of new technology,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement Thursday.

The NTSB announced the events at the same time it published an interim factual report on the Jan. 7 battery malfunction at Boston’s Logan Airport.

That incident was the first in a series of issues during early January that culminated with another smoky battery incident aboard an All Nippon Airways 787 flying over Japan.

That led the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the new jet model, which quickly led to a worldwide halt of all 787 flights.

The 48-page NTSB report, accompanied by almost 500 pages of supporting technical documents, included more details about the Boston incident but did not identify its elusive root cause.

In her statement, Hersman said the update is the latest effort to keep the public informed, calling it “a window into the significant investigative work that has been accomplished so far.”

The report included a long investigation to-do list, ranging from reviewing Boeing’s and its battery system suppliers’ stress tests to evaluating the toxicity of combustion byproducts that accompany lithium-ion battery fires. The only injury in the Boston incident was to a firefighter.

A Boeing statement prepared in response to the report called the update “a postive step.”

“The Boeing team has worked tirelessly in support of the NTSB to help develop an understanding of the event and will continue to do so,” the statement read.

The Chicago-based airframer has submitted to the FAA what its commercial airplanes chief executive has called a comprehensive and permanent fix. The proposal reportedly includes more separation between the battery cells, a stronger containment box around the entire battery unit and better venting should overheating happen again.

The FAA is expected to approve the corrective package soon, according to Reuters, but it could still be several weeks or even months before airlines resume commercial service.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who oversees the FAA and the NTSB, reiterated his position that the 787 won’t fly again until he is convinced it’s safe.

The technologically advanced but long-troubled twin-aisle jets are made in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. Fifty had been delivered to airline customers around the world, including four S.C.-made 787s to Air India, before the grounding.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.