June 17, 2013
As he prepared to travel to the Paris air show, Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney sat down in the company's Chicago headquarters with AW&ST Editor-in-Chief Joseph C. Anselmo and Senior Editor Guy Norris. He expressed confidence in the 787's return to flight—and had a blunt warning for suppliers
AW&ST: What did Boeing learn from the lithium-ion battery experience? Will this experience lead the company to be any less committed to incorporating innovative technology in future products?
McNerney: We have to manage both the introduction of new technology and the redundancy around it to protect planes and passengers. And I think in the case of the battery that was so. It certainly was a serious problem that had to be fixed, but the redundancy we had built in protected the airplane. This was the most rigorously certified airplane in history. But even then you learn from in-service experience. We know more about lithium-ion technology today than we—and the world—did 10-15 years ago. And all of those lessons, at a very specific level, have been worked into the new solution. So it is with great confidence that I think this technology will be safely deployed on this airplane. We can't be afraid of new technology.
Is there an alternate battery design as a long-term backup?
We're not planning a change in the battery technology.
Even as a backup?
We are always sifting through technologies for all systems. And there may be technologies that are coming after lithium-ion that we're looking at. We're obviously working with other longer-life battery technologies on our other airplanes. But we have no plans, backup or otherwise, to change [the 787 battery].
In retrospect, was the amount of weight you saved with lithium-ion batteries a case of too much risk for too little reward?
It's not as simple as a weight-reduction-gone-awry conclusion because we get added capability from this battery, such as its capacity to quickly charge. In an all-electric airplane, it is a more capable battery.