Faulty Batteries Ground Multimillion Dollar Plane


I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. My parents and I, along with my sisters, lived right across the Queens-Nassau border in Great Neck. Luckily for us NYC’s two major airports, LaGuardia (LGA) and John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport (JFK), were only about a 15-20 minute car from our home. Every so often my parents would load us into the family car and take us to one of the airports to watch plans take off or land. My parents knew where to park the car so we would be directly below the planes’ decent or ascent path. Watching the airplanes was equivalent to a family outing. My sisters and I would argue about where the planes were coming from or going to; as if we had any idea about the planes’ actual flight routes. I distinctly remember hearing my parents marvel at the advances in airline technology and air travel in just a few years.  I will never forget those moments.

Times have changed but when it comes to airplane watching I haven’t. Because  of 9/11 and changes in vehicle traffic regulations and enforcement it is no longer possible to park a car under JFK’s main runway. Now-a-days you can only watch the planes at JFK from a distance.

IMAG0079
Plane Taking Off from R4

I still watch the planes at LaGuardia from the same spots where I viewed them during the 60s and 70s. Planeview Park located in East Elmhurst, offers the best vantage point for viewing take-offs and landings at LGA. The park is relatively small and consists of open space with a few trees and park benches. Planeview Park is located at the foot of runway 4, just across the Grand Central Parkway. I have taken my children to this place to watch airplanes landing and taking off. They opened their eyes wide each time a plane flies over. When they grew tired of watching “my planes” they pulled me into the local McDonalds, which is located two blocks from the park.

Even with all the advances in commercial airline construction I am still amazed that something so big and heavy manages to fly with so few reports of mechanical difficulties or failures. A large passenger airplane is a complex piece of machinery. When a plane does experience mechanical problems while in flight, the consequences can be disastrous. Statistics support airlines officials assertions that travel by air is the safest form of transportation. I think there are many reasons for this impressive safety record. One of the main reasons for this excellent record is that whenever it is believed that an airplane is unsafe the entire fleet of planes is grounded Boeing, the world’s leader in building commercial airlines,  knows this fact all too well.

Jet fuel and across the board operating costs have escalated over the years. Airlines carries are struggling to stay in the skies as viable companies. Carrier executives dream of operating a fleet of super-efficient airplanes on long international routes. Boeing conceived of and put into production the 787 family of planes, which was specifically designed for use on long international routes. The mid-size planes are designed to carry between 210-290 passengers a distance of almost 16,000 kilometers. The airplanes’ composite material airframe, more efficient jet engines and the reliance on electric fly by wire technology allows for the plane to consume 20% less fuel than today’s comparable airplanes. Boeing’s new plane is easier to maintain.

The 787 is an all electric plane; consequently, the use of hydraulics has been reduced to a minimum. Running the airplanes avionics and electrical is mostly accomplished by suites of lithium-ion batteries. Consequently the plane’s turbo fan engines are not required to provide all of the required electrical power; there is no bleeding off of energy. The interior has been designed to be more ergonomically friendly. Upper tier carriers have placed substantial orders for 787s. Boeing has already delivered 787s to Japan’s two major airlines and United. In mid-January the FAA and FTSB grounded the entire fleet of 787s due to problems with the lithium-ion batteries.

Depending on your age you might not remember when cellular phones and laptop computers first hit the market. The phones were attached to a shoebox size batteries that were clumsy and weighed more than a lead bar. The laptop computers were slightly smaller than their desktop cousins except their battery pack accounted for at least 50% of the machine’s total weight. Once the manufactures switched to lithium-ion batteries to power the devices coupled with an ability to endlessly miniaturize electronic components laptops and cellular phones began to take on their current form. Today you can literally hold a device in the palm of your hand that can perform like a business class desktop computer.

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