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Flight risk

The one-in-a-billion risk of battery fire that happened twice in 52,000

United States

Nassim Taleb—author of The Black Swan—won yet another round in the debate over the probability of highly improbable events. A new US regulator’s report reveals that Boeing regarded the chances of a battery fire aboard its new 787 Dreamliner as less than one in a billion hours of flight time. Instead, the lithium-ion battery caught fire aboard one aircraft and started smoking on another—in less than 52,000 hours of flight time. The report (pdf) was issued March 7 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Taleb’s book argues that much more attention should be paid to fractionally probable risks, a suggestion that, if heeded, could have prevented much of the world’s financial misery of the last four years. Now, Boeing is learning the same hard lesson.

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