Boeing, Tesla: How altitude shapes attitude «
One of Japan Airlines’ new Boeing /quotes/zigman/220026/delayed/quotes/nls/ba BA +0.18% 787 Dreamliners is grounded at Tokyo’s Narita airport. It isn’t going anywhere until they figure out why its lithium-ion battery pack started smoking and oozing liquid. It’s really hard to imagine when spontaneous combustion on an airplane is a good thing.
According to Reuters, the plane’s ground crew discovered the problem just a couple of hours before its next scheduled flight. No other damage was reported elsewhere on the aircraft and no one was hurt. And while there so far is no word on what caused the problem, Japan Airlines officials said alarms in the cockpit pointed to the power pack and its charger.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s very similar to the battery pack fire a year ago on another Japan Airlines 787 at Boston’s Logan airport. It also sounds like the battery-pack fire that forced a fully-loaded All Nippon Airways 787 to make an emergency landing about a week later, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the fledgling 787 fleet while Boeing worked out why these lithium-ion battery packs were overheating.
Three months later, Boeing engineers convinced the FAA they had a fix (better “thermal containment”) which allowed 787s to resume flying.
Meanwhile, back on terra firma, Tesla Motors /quotes/zigman/118681/delayed/quotes/nls/tsla TSLA -0.56% continues to wrestle with technical issues surrounding its all-electric Model S sedan. The latest problem involves a recall of 29,222 vehicles on concerns the adapter, cord, or wall outlet could overheat. The company claims it has a remedy, available to Model S owners via an “over-the-air” software update.
Boeing’s 787 and Tesla’s Model S are both packed with lots of technology that rely heavily on the health of their lithium-ion battery packs and, of course, their rechargers. This is cutting-edge stuff. As such, there are bound to be teething problems, and an adoring public is willing to share some of that risk.
So maybe it doesn’t make much difference, at least in terms of sales. Tesla just reported it delivered about 6,900 cars in 2013, about 900 more than it earlier predicted, and the Boeing 787 remains the best-selling commercial aircraft launch in the history of aviation.
On the other hand, taking risks on new technology carries much higher stakes at 35,000 feet than when rolling along a road. That’s something Boeing apparently is going to have to address. Again.
It also explains why Boeing shares fell nearly 2% on the news from Japan while Tesla stock surged 12% as investors shrugged off the recall to focused instead on its stellar sales.
Also read: Stock market live blog: Dow works up to end 4-day skid, Tesla revs up on deliveries