“It was (Boeing’s) responsibility to request that test,” Lukso said.
The RTCA, formed in 1935 as the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, is a private, not-for-profit industry group whose policy recommendations are often used by the FAA. Its battery committee -- whose members included employees from Boeing ‘s battery maker GS Yuasa, the battery system maker Thales SA of France and the FAA -- drafted a 68-page document to set “minimum operational performance standards” for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used as power sources on planes.
These guidelines “are generic in nature,” the committee said, “and serve only as a baseline for the design and test of specific battery systems and equipment pairings.”
The document included clearer and more specific tests than the FAA set, along with tougher standards. For example, the 787 special conditions say Boeing’s battery system must prevent “explosive or toxic gases” from accumulating in “hazardous quantities” in the airplane in any situation which is not “extremely remote.” In FAA parlance, “extremely remote” means once in 10 million flight hours.
But the DO-311 standards say the tests must show the chances are “extremely improbable” -- FAA code for one in a billion flight hours.
Boeing’s tests, which included puncturing the battery with a nail and subjecting it to heat, predicted the chance of a fire was less than one in 10 million flight hours. But when the plane was in use, two batteries overheated and emitted smoke and fumes after less than 100,000 hours, according to the NTSB.
Lukso, who left SecuraPlane to start his own lithium-ion battery business, acknowledged that the RTCA standards are tough. At his new company, he spent $6 million and several years without successfully building a battery that could pass the test now in front of Boeing.