air safety

Jan 17, 2013

FAA grounds 787 Dreamliners

The history of the certification of the 787 by the FAA shows that Boeing received certain exemptions from the agency for the use of a type of lithium ion battery, and that it persuaded that agency that a fire such as the one that occurred in a Japan Airlines 787 on the ground at Boston on 7 January was impossible given the design of the jet.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Inside the Qatar 787 which isn't about to fly Doha-Perth: PR photo

Less than a week after holding a PR stunt with Boeing to say how safe 787s were the Dreamliners  have been grounded by the US Federal Aviation Administration until they are proven to be safe to fly.

Coming from the agency that certified the airliner type as safe, this is both serious and embarrassing.

The FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive to deal with a potential battery fire risk before the 787 is allowed to fly again.

The history of the certification of the 787 by the FAA shows that Boeing received certain exemptions from the agency for the use of a type of lithium ion battery, and that it persuaded that agency that a fire such as the one that occurred in a Japan Airlines 787 on the ground at Boston on 7 January was impossible given the design of the jet.

Qantas has 15 of the initial Dreamliner model, the 787-8, on order for delivery from later this year for use by Jetstar, and holds options for a further 35 of the improved and higher capacity 787-9 for delivery from 2016 for use by Qantas itself.

The first scheduled service to Australia by a 787 was due to be inaugurated on 1 February between Doha and Perth by Qatar Airways.  Although nothing official has been said by Qatar as yet, it yesterday began cancelling others of its scheduled 787 services.

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12 thoughts on “FAA grounds 787 Dreamliners

  1. comet

    Whoa! It just became a whole lot more serious.

    Paul Cousins, of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, was right. Cousins told Fairfax Media 5 days ago, on January 12, that Boeing had released the 787 into service prematurely, due to commercial pressures, before the airliner was ”quite ready to be put into service”. Cousins said last Saturday that the 787 fleet should be taken out of service until the lithium-ion battery fire problem was resolved.

    Five days later, the FAA did just that.

    The grounding compounds the PR disaster. It’s almost a stamp of uncertainty which will forever be with the plane, just as the grounding of the DC-10 destroyed public confidence. Like the DC-10, every news story involving a 787 incident will end with the line that the Dreamliner was grounded in January, 2013, due to safety concerns.

  2. carl.gruber

    This action had to happen.

    Can you imagine the consequences if the B787 was allowed to continue flying and one was lost to an inflight fire?

  3. keesje

    As expected. The FAA had no other options.

  4. Merve

    This is why they were grounded.

    “Hot chemicals sprayed out of the battery on the 787 Dreamliner in this week’s emergency landing in Japan, leaving a gooey dark residue and suggesting a different malfunction than last week’s 787 battery fire in Boston, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

    The residue covered the battery and splattered over nearby instruments inside the forward electronics bay. It left a 12-foot-long dark streak from the battery to an outflow valve through which some of the spray vented overboard during the flight.

  5. SBH

    “Both types of lithium batteries, the li-ion packs that are rechargeable, and the non-rechargeable straight lithium type, pose fire hazards that can be readily handled in a cabin rather than under it.” Plane talking 30 May, 2011

    Ben, can you tell us how the dreamliner’s batteries differ (esp why are they not a fire risk) from these types of batteries?

  6. TT

    SBH: I cannot claim I have any inside knowledge for FAA/CASA certification works, but normally when OEM manufacture items for military or aviation use, one item they need to conduct is Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) or Failure mode, effects, and criticality analysis (FMECA) (more likely FMECA). OEM need to understand when an item fails, how it would fail and what the consequences would be as a result for that etc.

    So the battery used in the B787 would have done such FMECA analysis, and it probably concluded with that when the battery fails it would not cause any effects which would have significant to flight safety etc etc. (Obviously the battery OEM will now have to revisit their FMECA since something unexpected had happened…)

  7. Ben Sandilands


    I’ll rely on what the NTSB says on this and will continue to post their bulletins which seem to manage to be both in depth in a technical sense yet readable for the curious like us.


    That’s a very interesting story in the Seattle media. There are of course a few other things simmering over matters 787 in the US late in the night current time and I will have a further report later today.

  8. ltfisher

    I guess the good thing about the 787 is that, as far as I am aware, the problems are confined to some of the ‘furniture and fittings’ of the aircraft: no-one has questioned the integrity of what is revolutionary in this aircraft which is its ‘composite’ construction.

    Incidentally I always found the DC10, and similar rear engined aircraft [L1011, VC10, B727], great from the passenger point of view. Fedex has very successfully used the DC10 variant for years and is only now replacing them.

  9. StickShaker

    The DC10 was not only grounded but the FAA pulled its certificate of airworthiness after the AA191 crash in which 271 people were killed.
    While the issues was one of maintenance rather than design flaws as you say, public confidence in the type was lost.

    I dont see the 787 losing public confidence to the same degree as the DC10 – no lives have been lost and the public will view battery faults in a different light to an engine detaching during take-off. Still serious, but not as bad as the DC10.

  10. SBH

    Comet, maybe it’s more like the early 727 where the tail configuration was blamed for a series of hard landings and crashes but it went on to be hugely successful

  11. Ben Sandilands

    Remember the T-tail problems well. There were a few UA 727-100 crashes and an infamous loss of a BAC-111 prototype, which are all in the history of these things attributed in various measure to pilots reacting as if they were on conventional tailed aircraft with wing mounted engines with entirely different flight envelope behavior at a range of low speeds and higher angles of attack.

    The risks were removed primarily by revised training for operations of T-tail designs particularly at vulnerable moments involving speed and attitude.

  12. Malcolm Street

    Ben – wasn’t another factor with T-tails putting in stick pushers to make it harder to get it into deep stall? (ie the horizontal stabiliser rendered ineffective due to being in the shadow of the wing).

    IIRC the pilot in the BAC-111 kept talking to the ground re. what was happening all the way to aircraft impact which provided invaluable in overcoming the problems – an unsung hero.

    ITfisher – the MD-11 is a favourite with freight companies because of its higher thrust meaning higher payloads out of hot and high airports than twin-engined aircraft of a similar size.

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