A battery fire on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Boston’s Logan International Airport led to the termination of recently instated 787 flights between Tokyo and Boston. On the morning of Jan. 7, passengers on Flight 8 from Tokyo had arrived in Boston and had just finished deplaning when crews detected smoke within the plane, according to Carol Anderson, a spokeswoman for Japan Airlines (JAL).
The smoke came from a small fire caused by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the back of the plane, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal entity in charge of an ongoing investigation into the incident.
The NTSB reported that crews from the Logan Fire Department took over 90 minutes to control the electrical fire, which came from the battery used to start the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APU, essentially a small jet engine, is a vital component of the aircraft that powers onboard systems and starts the two main General Electric jet engines that power the aircraft during flight.
On Jan. 16, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency directive that required airlines to “temporarily cease operations.” Other agencies worldwide have issued similar directives, leaving all 787s worldwide on the ground and inactive.
JAL has resumed daily flights to Boston using a larger Boeing 777-200 Extended Range aircraft since the incident. The NTSB, FAA and JAL have not provided a date for the Dreamliner to return to the skies.
“Japan Airlines is committed to the Boston market,” Anderson said.
Last April, Boston officials celebrated the city’s first direct connection to Asia when JAL chose the 787 to launch the first-ever direct flight between Logan Airport and Tokyo. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick lauded the link as an “invaluable economic partnership” between Japan and Massachusetts.
JAL launched a highly successful operation in Boston with Dreamliners running on average 83.6 percent full for the first half of 2012, according to Anderson. Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for Massport, the company that runs Logan Airport, said that the organization expected the service to generate up to $350 million in ticket revenues over a one-year period, which, combined with traveler expenditures, would greatly impact the local economy. The 787 is the first plane of its kind made mostly of carbon-fiber composites, according to Boeing. Boeing combined several passenger amenities, including dimmable windows, better air quality and a turbulence-prevention system, with modern electrical systems, new engines and a new wing design on the 787 to give customers the ultimate flying experience, and airlines a 20 percent efficiency improvement, according to a Boeing press release.
The 787 has different engine-starting and electrical power architectures compared to conventional aircraft, according to Boeing documents. Engineers reduced the complexity and weight of the aircraft by using more electrical components throughout the aircraft.
Part of the 787’s weight-saving, highly efficient design includes the GS Yuasa Japanese-made battery, unique to the 787, which caught fire, according to an NTSB press release. The NTSB has been working since the incident to determine the cause of the fire, and until they find a cause and determine a fix for the US fleet of 787s, the battery poses a serious safety threat.