air safety

Apr 6, 2013

Boeing 787 battery flight means it’s now all up to FAA

Qantas-to-Boeing: Waiting, waiting, waiting for Jetstar 787 delivery date

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The LOT Polish 787-8 completing the battery box test today: Boeing photo

The most unanswered question of the hour is now when will the FAA decide to lift the current grounding order on 787 Dreamliners, and how soon will it recover lost production, a question of critical importance to Qantas as it awaits the first of 14 787-8s  for Jetstar, which is supposed to be handed over in Seattle in August.

This is the Boeing statement:

Boeing completed a 787 certification demonstration flight today [Friday, April 5] on Line number 86, a Boeing-owned production airplane built for LOT Polish Airlines. Today’s flight marks the final certification test for the new battery system, completing the testing required by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Today’s flight departed from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. at 10:39 a.m. Pacific with a crew of 11 onboard, including two representatives from the FAA. The airplane flew for 1 hour and 49 minutes, landing back at Paine Field at 12:28 p.m. Pacific.

The crew reported that the certification demonstration plan was straightforward and the flight was uneventful. The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate that the new battery system performs as intended during normal and non-normal flight conditions.

Boeing will now gather and analyze the data and submit the required materials to the FAA. Once we deliver the materials we stand ready to reply to additional requests and continue in dialog with the FAA to ensure we have met all of their expectations.

However Boeing is also known to be building and stockpiling, and on some reports, dispatching the modified battery containments or super fire boxes which are expected to take five days to install on the 50 Dreamliners grounded because of heavy duty lithium-ion failures in two 787s in January, in JAL and ANA aircraft respectively.

Also under question is whether the FAA will approve the super fire boxes before the NTS, the safety investigator, conducts an investigative hearing in Washington DC on 23-24 April to examine issues relating to the design, testing, and certification of the heavy duty lithium-ion batteries used in the Boeing 787, with particular reference to the one that burned uncontrolled for at least 99 minutes in a JAL Dreamliner on the tarmac at Boston Airport on 7 January.

The reputation of the FAA came into question following the grounding order, and including from itself, when it was confirmed that Boeing’s safety statements and certain assumptions about the risk of failure in the batteries in 2008 during the certification process for the 787 were wrong. The degree to which the FAA delegated some elements of the certification of the Dreamliners to Boeing also became controversial.

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7 thoughts on “Boeing 787 battery flight means it’s now all up to FAA

  1. comet

    Even though the FAA generally does what Boeing tells it to do (like the tail on a dog), it would be madness to certify the Dreamliner before the NTSB hearings have taken place.

    Boeing knows that it is better off waiting, at least until the public hearings are over. Otherwise the world’s media would create ugly Dreamliner headlines.

    Boeing knows that the Dreamliner will not go back into service during April.

  2. Mike Bohnet

    In my opinion it could go either way. The NTSB and FAA have a long history of working together, and I’m quite sure the FAA is already very familiar with the NTSB’s views on the battery incidents. It’s not like the FAA will need to attend the hearings in order to find out what the NTSB has found out.

    Also, I seriously doubt there is any additional information or analysis that will pop up in the next two weeks. These hearings are really all for the cameras and the reassurance of the public. So, it really is up to the FAA. The decision when to certify will be driven by results review, paperwork processing, and political considerations.

  3. ltfisher

    The public isn’t likely to be reassured by some stage managed hearings Mike. What travellers will want to see is lotsa uneventful hours in log books. Maybe Boeing should start flying the aircraft around the world empty for a few weeks/monthe Personally I wouldn’t fly in a 787 at present even if, maybe especially if, I was paid.

  4. Theoddkiwi

    Why is so much emphasis on real world flight hours being some sort of gauge as it if the modifications have worked. It’s a battery. The batteries don’t have any function in flight under normal conditions. So how will flying with them any more than the one test flight prove they are safe? The vast majority of theses batteries will spend all their lives doing only their primary function, which is providing power for ground services. That is when they will be stressed and used the most.

    So to test the batteries the majority of testing should be based around how and when they will be used most. When the aircraft is first powered up and when the APU is started. No amount of flight hours can test that.

    Lets stop for a minute and look back at a historic precedence. TWA 800 exploded midair in 1996 and the NTSB took 4 years and one month to publish their final report. Their final report did not have a definitive cause. The know the centre fuel tank exploded but could never prove the source of ignition for the explosion. The 747 was not grounded and Boeing have designed and now fitted nitrogen generation systems to all their aircraft that will make it virtually impossible to spark an explosion from within a fuel tank. Additional to that Boeing has undertaken a number of modifications to older aircraft that’s has significantly reduced the chances of fuel tank wiring from being able to create a spark.
    So the NTSB report was inconclusive even after 4 years and regardless of that Boeing designed a new prevention system and modified older systems to prevent a failure that a 4 year investigation could never prove happened. So there you have it Boeing modifies its designs based on a theoretical hypothesis.

    So is that what Boeing should do with the 787? Wait 4 years for the NTSB to publish its report that will most likely have no definitive cause and then leave Boeing to modify its design based on a theretical hypothesis?

  5. comet

    For starters, TWA 800 was blown to smithereens, so that made the investigation incredibly difficult.

    Second, the NTSB investigation of TWA 800 didn’t come to nothing. The NTSB determined that the likely cause was fuel tank sparking.

    In the case of the Dreamliner, there have been reports that humidity may have played a role. Things like that need to be tested inflight.

    Boeing got itself into this mess by guaranteeing the battery was safe when it wasn’t.

  6. Mike Bohnet

    Of course Boeing guaranteed the safety of the 787. What aircraft manufacturer does not guarantee the safety of their products? Incidents and crashes throughout history involving ALL manufacturers merely illustrate the fact that guaranteeing safety does not actually insure total safety.

    Exposure of the battery to variable humidity will now be remedied by placing the battery in a controlled environment provided by the containment box. This can be tested just fine on the ground, along with a host of other well accepted safety related tests.

  7. ltfisher

    OK, I really don’t mind where more testing is done – air or ground – my point is that about not having one swallow make a summer.

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