air safety

Jan 29, 2013

Dreamliner: Japan admits ‘easing’ standards to ‘help’ Boeing

The rotten governmental oversight of Japan's nuclear industry before Fukushima may have been visited on the country's involvement in the 787 project, as a key official admits a deliberate easing of safety requirements

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A Reuters scoop in which a Japan aerospace official admits that in 2008 the government eased its safety regulations to ‘assist’ the progress to certification of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner carries dire implications for Boeing, the FAA and Dreamliner customers.

The story undermines the credibility of the FAA certification process, and tells us that when Boeing handed off design as well as build quality for more than one third of the 787 to partners in Japan they actively undermined the standards of the finished jet to improve those partner’s businesses.

While the story does not link these reduced or eased standards to the areas of concern that lead to the grounding of the Dreamliners following serious incidents involving a Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways 787s they raise the obvious questions as to whether they may have, and whether they have also impacted other aspects of the airliner’s design, construction and safety.

The story raises the point that when Boeing parted the 787 program to other risk and reward stakeholders it appears to have diluted the effectiveness of FAA oversight as well as Boeing’s control over the quality and integrity of delivered Dreamliners.

The seriousness of these disclosures cannot be understated.

The process by which the 787 was designed and certified appears to have been compromised by Japan deciding to assist the commercial interests of its companies with ‘eased’ standards.

Given the lies and corruption that beset Japan’s nuclear industry, and the disgraceful negligence of its governmental and corporate oversight of  Tepco, prior to, during and after the Fukushima reactor failures, it is appalling to think that similar rotten standards of conduct may have been applied to the 787.

This will cause a crisis of trust in the Dreamliner program that may require a far better management response from Boeing and the FAA than has been evident to date.

These are not matters that can be solved by investing in PR. They can only be solved by the restoration of higher standards of conduct than Boeing and the FAA have performed in relation to the Dreamliners.

It may well lead to the redesign and recertification of aspects of the Dreamliner project and the 787s already built and delivered.  Think about that carefully.

In a separate story Reuters has published extracts from an Airbus briefing on the hazards of lithium ion batteries in airline design and in devices consigned as air freight or carried on board by passengers.

The briefing seems to have been silent on the more pressing questions as to what Airbus needs to do with its application of lithium ion batteries in its yet to fly A350 family of jets, which will compete at some points with the payload/range offerings of the 787 family.

Its publication will add to pressure on Airbus to make its safety case for these batteries in its A350s clearer, as well as to expand on its earlier statements that it will consider and act on whatever the NTSB finds and the FAA recommends.


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7 thoughts on “Dreamliner: Japan admits ‘easing’ standards to ‘help’ Boeing

  1. johnb78

    The good thing from Airbus’s point of view is that it’s still 18 months before the A350 is scheduled to come into service. If Professor Sadoway at MIT is right about the timings that Boeing is facing on the 787, that gives Airbus plenty of time to come up with an alternative (whether that’s better cooled Li-ion, or going back to NiMH) and get it certified.

  2. comet

    The 787 reputation is vying with Olympus for the brand name most associated with scandal.

    Every step of the 787’s development has been a scandal. Now we find out that governments “relaxed” safety standards for the 787 certification, to satisfy corporate interests.

    With a 12-month+ delay looking ever more likely, the 787 is shaping up to become one of the biggest corporate botch-ups in history.

  3. discus

    Cost cutting and self regulation is going to kill a lot of people one day. You cannot trust builders and operators to run the industry. Idiot governments and neutered regulators with regulations designed to get flying and maintenance done more cheaply are part of the problem in the race to the bottom. I only hope the USA regulator and investigators,having short-comings exposed, go through them like a dose of salts.Too many in the industry are driven purely by money and are deluded that safety is inherent.

  4. Jeff Lewis

    I have been doing lots of research lately while developing a new website aimed at helping bring about long-overdue FAA reform. The year these Japan regs were relaxed, ‘2008’, is a red-flag year for FAA; the congressional hearings on 4/3/08 when Boutris and Peters spoke up about Southwest AD noncompliance (and FAA management complicity); grounding of the Eclipse 500; the flood of whistleblower filings at OSC; the rapid departure of the Special Counsel shortly after he spoke strongly against FAA and airline failures in September. Some would say this was the timeframe when FAA’s Customer Service Initiative (CSI)crumbled. Anyway, those CSI years, from 2003 into 2009, appear to be an extraordinarily corrupt period at FAA. And, as far as Japan relaxing B787 regs goes, is it not fair to say that historically, FAA has normally been biggest dog in the pack, and the other national regulators thus tend to follow FAA’s lead?

    I have found news stories that listed ’40’ reg changes, as well as stories that referred to pressures from JAL and ANA.

    Two questions, and hoping Ben or some astute readers can provide some answers, or at least tips to research toward the answers.

    1) do we have anything precise, as to what the Japan CAB reg relaxations related to 787 were?, and

    2) any news or agency records that reveal if these were duplicating changes already passed by FAA, or confirm the original source of the draft reg changes?

    IMHO, aviation regulatory agencies tend toward severe regulatory capture. My guess is Japan’s aviation agency is a tiny fraction of FAA’s $16B annual budget, thus it is extremely unlikely those ’40’ changes were anything but rubberstamps of market-support efforts emanating from Boeing and FAA. In aviation accidents, dead pilots tend to quietly accept the assignment of fault. When the dust settles on all of this, I would sure hate to see primary blame assigned to Japan CAB if the real fault belongs to the invisible dance partner with the big feet.

  5. keesje

    I think for Airbus it is not a question of using this battery technology but how to use it. I understand the A350 needs 3 times less energy then the all electric Dreamliner and has spread out the battery power over 4 small instead of 2 big batteries. Then it seems they have better cooling and cell ventilation/ isolation. So the likelyhood a runaway is smaller, it can better be cooled, if a cell burns the fire is smaller and it doesn’t take its brothers with it.

    I have a feeling all this 787 battery power packed together in a closed box wasn’t brilliant engineering.

  6. comet

    Interesting to see the head of the electric car manufacturer, Tesla Motors, give Boeing a blast in the Flight Global publication.

    If you take a look at the battery array in Tesla’s cars (LINK), you see it as 6,831 tiny little lithium cells, each with an active cooling system between. This contrasts with Boeing’s large slabs of lithium, packed together without active cooling.

    The question the whole world is asking: How was such an obviously flawed design ever given approval?

  7. Ben Sandilands

    Even bigger news is now breaking in the US. Will do a new post

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