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Jul 27, 2013

Attempt to hush up new Qatar 787 fire fails

*Updated  with link to 787 management change After days of stonewalling it has been confirmed that a Qatar Airways 787 caught fire, according to some reports, in a rear und

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*Updated  with link to 787 management change

After days of stonewalling it has been confirmed that a Qatar Airways 787 caught fire, according to some reports, in a rear underfloor part of the fuselage, last Sunday as it was moving into position to take off from Doha airport.

The fire has been described as ‘serious’ in some quarters, ‘not serious’ by the airline, and also by one contact as having extensively damaged an important panel in the electrical bay that also caught fire in a test flight Dreamliner in November 2010, causing an emergency diversion to Laredo where that jet was evacuated.

It may be another reason for Qatar Airways to be reluctant to restore its original ambition to fly 787s between Doha and Perth from 1 February, a long oceanic route route with comparatively few emergency diversionary airport options along the way that would have become Australia’s first scheduled Dreamliner service, but has since been overlooked by the airline as it rebuilds and expands its services with the plastic electric jet.

It is assumed that Boeing as the manufacturer immediately notified the US FAA, the certifying authority for the Dreamliners, as to the incident. The US safety investigator, the NTSB, is continuing to seek a cause for the heavy duty lithium-ion battery problems that saw the FAA scramble to catch up with Japan’s decision to ground the Dreamliners in January after two serious and high profile incidents in Japan registered 787s.

While that problem, apparently unrelated to other 787 problems, remains of unknown cause, the Dreamliner were allowed back into the air after Boeing devised and began fitting super fire boxes containing the lithium ion batteries in a way in which senior management so reassuringly told the industry that they could burn for hours without compromising (that is, burning through) the structure of the jet and any at risk critical control systems.

There are numerous stories about the Qatar incident in the international media today, including here and here.

Although the incident was described by Qatar Airways as minor the jet has not flown for six days.

Unrelated to the January lithium-ion incidents and the Qatar electrical bay incident of this week, more defective or incorrectly wired or installed ELTs or crash location beacons are being found in 787s already in service.

These discoveries are largely being made by airlines that have been faster to move on concerns about the beacons than the FAA, which has taken its own sweet time to essentially adopt the measures promptly recommended by the UK Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) following a very damaging fire in an Ethiopian Airways 787 at London’s Heathrow Airport on 12 July.

Among the stories about the suspect beacons is this one about discoveries made by All Nippon Airways.  One of United’s six 787s has also been found to have been fitted with a dubious ELT. According to the UK safety investigator, an in flight ignition of an ELT could have serious consequences.  The  AAIB also recommended the FAA consider extending safety advice concerning the beacons to other types of airliners that commonly use a very similarly designed beacon from Honeywell, the maker of the 787 beacons.

The 787 electrical safety issues have become a study in the public relations management (and suppression) of bad news as well as matters of significant public concern at the safety of flight level.

*Mike Sinnett the long time chief project engineer for the 787 has been moved to what the Seattle Times in this detailed report calls a ‘less stressful position’ in the company.

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27 comments

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27 thoughts on “Attempt to hush up new Qatar 787 fire fails

  1. comet

    Oh my. Another one!

    Why would anyone want to suppress news of a fire aboard an aircraft? These ‘seemingly unrelated’ fires are now happening so often that it’s only a matter of time before one occurs mid-flight causing disaster.

    You would think, that given the risk of lithium, that aircraft manufacturers would install heat monitoring sensors nearby every lithium battery installed on the aircraft, including in hard-to-reach areas around the ELT. But they have not.

    In the case of the Dreamliner, I think they should install heat and smoke monitoring devices next to each electrical distribution panel, as they seem to have a habit of combusting.

  2. LongTimeObserver

    Too many dots not to connect…

  3. Ken Borough

    Ben,

    In view of the foibles being experienced by the 787, isn’t it time that the word ‘Dreamliner’ be not any longer used as a name for this aircraft? Surely it can’t be anyone’s ‘dream’?

  4. comet

    Maybe it is a dream. Boeing said last week that the technical problems are not deterring people from flying the Dreamliner, and it is apparently still popular with the public.

  5. Astro

    Your Thoughts Theo…
    Probably a good time, more now than ever, for Boeing to seriously consider, whether ironing out all the bugs before
    continuing to operate in commercial op’s has come.
    I am surprised if Boeing have said anything about Technical problem’s not deterring people from flying the Dreamliner, as I my eye’s this is Irrelevant. Or do we
    only strive for safer products and Engineering based on Public Feedback?

  6. Bear

    Comet … the plane is still popular with the public, because aside from the grounding earlier in the year, which they assume has been solved, the genial traveling public know nothing about the smaller but equally – or maybe more, given the frequency – disturbing incidents such as this one or the Ethiopian at LHR.

    I note that Air India has an ad in today’s paper advertising their 787 schedule between SYD/MEL & DEL to start from 31/8. Best of luck to AI and their unwitting fare-paying guinea pigs.

  7. Bear

    Oops! I am sure most of them are ‘genial” but I meant to say “general”.

  8. R. Ockape

    Nothing to do with the 787 but I can’t find a contact. Another Asiana low approach into KSFO – this one 4 days ago! Boeing and Asiana managers must be due for more bonuses this year.

    http://avherald.com/h?article=465e38db&opt=0

  9. COTOS

    Oh dear, even if this 787 is not at fault, if its just someones fireworks in their luggage or even a wayard smoke detector, this aircraft really is the Titanic of modern aviation, it attracts fire like that ship attracted icebergs while others sailed on. Plus moving Mike is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as well.

  10. johnny7713

    R.Ocktape, that was an EVA airlines Boeing. EVA airlines is a Taiwanese company that is completely unrelated to Asiana, which is Korean.

  11. R. Ockape

    Thanks Johnny for your correction. Misread the carrier. Oops.

  12. David K

    If this account is correct, and that plane was about to take off (presumably with passengers), then this is extremely serious. An event like Laredo at any time other than final approach could result in a crash. It would also show that Boeing never fixed the Laredo problem (software? FOD?), and that the various fires are linked to a flawed and un-fixable electrical system.

    There is a spectacular and terrible story unfolding here.

    Boeing has a powerful incentive to keep rolling the dice and hope things work out. If they voluntarily ground the plane (to give them time to re-design the electrical system, which would take a year or more) then they will face massive penalties and cancellations. Halting current production would bankrupt suppliers and maybe Boeing itself.

    The airlines also have a powerful incentive. With the 767 effectively out of production and not enough A330s to meet demand, they badly need this plane. If any of them expresses public concern they spook their own customers and infuriate the entire industry.

    Regulators, most notably the FAA, are in too deep. They let this plane go into production before the design was even finalized. They granted a type cert with precious few actual flight hours and numerous serious problems. They looked the other way for months in 2012, then only consented to a grounding when the Japanese forced their hand in January. For the FAA to go back on its recommendations earlier would raise questions about their credibility.

    In the absence of another major event no one in a position to stop this thing has the proper incentive. They will destroy their own career, damage whatever entity they are associated with (carrier, manufacturer, regulator), do serious economic damage to the global aviation industry. And everyone will say they are wrong without another event.

    So everyone is waiting and watching. And in the end it will be someone else’s fault.

  13. dingus

    Ground the 787 now before someone is killed.

  14. Dan Dair

    Might as well not bother fitting the dehumidifiers then.?
    Perhaps they could just drill a couple of holes in the bottom to let the water drain away on it’s own.?

    How about a water recycling system that stores the pooled-water from condensation and supplies it to a sprinkler system to put out the on board fires……..
    Then it turned-out that the necessary heat & smoke sensors overloaded the dodgy electrical system and set themselves on fire….. etc, etc, etc.

  15. Burke Stephens

    Whilst, basically agreeing with commenters above, it also suggests that Airbus’ design philosophy with A350 perhaps is superior to Boeing’s eg: composite panels on a frame v single barrel construction; a much lower-power electrical system.. this may become glaringly obvious if A350 has a smooth test program and entry to service…

    Does 787 in reality reflect the gutting of the proven ‘old Boeing’ culture post merger with McDonnell Douglas or merely intense teething issues that will be sorted??

  16. Theoddkiwi

    Astro, I am honored that you value my input so much.
    Unfortunately there are very few verifiable facts in ANY of the articles written so far to make any judgement, Unless you can uncover real facts rather than just hearsay.
    I’ll keep my ideas to myself in future.

  17. Astro

    Keep it Light Theo, I value all reply’s, good, bad or Indifferent. I don’t have to agree with you, and neither does anyone with me!
    Anyone that has spent time in this industry is well aware of history and how it tends to repeat.
    The last thing anyone wants is a I told you so, questioning these machines should be encouraged, particularly with recent events in mind.

  18. keesje

    Ben, everyone wants to move on with the Dreamliner so much we have developed a slight preference to look the other way when another 787 glitch appears. It takes folks like you who’ve seen it all before, three times, to stay sharp when safety is concerned, irrespective of who’s involved.

  19. Dan Dair

    I agree that “there are very few verifiable facts in ANY of the articles written so far”
    Is this because Boeing is ‘flexing it’s muscles’, the FAA ‘rolling-over on it’s back’, or the vast majority of journalists just not wanting (or being allowed) to report ‘bad’ news about Boeing.?
    We had all that business in January with the “Battery fire that wasn’t a fire” etc, etc.
    Then they put the batteries in a fire-proof box to make sure that if a(n impossible) ‘fire’ did happen again, it wouldn’t harm the aircraft. (Confused, you will be…)
    The fact that there are so few verifiable facts looks like a conspiracy of silence
    (I understand that it also may be because there ARE no verifiable facts)
    But if that IS the case, why is the 787 still flying if there is still so much unknown about the problems it has had.?

  20. Mike Bohnet

    Boeing cover-up? Where have I heard that before? If the incident is really as serious as most here seem to think it is, then the facts will get out eventually.

    I find it telling that there was no response from the fire brigade. An incident as serious as what happened in Laredo would generate some sort of response. In my opinion, a fire brigade response would be almost impossible to cover up.

    I’m all for connecting the dots, but doing so prematurely is not helpful. It only distorts the truth. I seem to recall that not too long ago, there were those who jumped to the conclusion that gremlins in the electrical system were responsible for the Ethiopian 787 fire (Ben was not one of those, however). The dots were just too tempting not to connect. As it turns out, the cause had nothing to do with the electrical system.

    Let’s not unnecessarily risk making the same mistake again.

  21. Ben Sandilands

    There are claimed eyewitness references to the jet bursting into smoke which are unverifiable.

    The matter that is verifiable at present is that eight days after the incident the jet has not lit up any flight tracking software.

    That seems a long time to take to address a ‘minor’ problem.

  22. Astro

    I one paragraph statement from Boeing saying
    Nothing happened should do the Trick!

  23. comet

    Oh, nothing really happened. It was just a smokin’ electrical panel. Routine.

  24. dingus

    Or someone in cargo bay on the bong of a sheshia that the stuff of perfumed tobaca

  25. LongTimeObserver

    Eight days later and still AOG, one gets the sense there is not a lot of confidence in that particular aircraft.

  26. dingus

    Boeing has a AOG team on the ground at LHR TO PATCH the 787 what smoked a few week ago to save face over a posible
    hull loss???? good luck AOG.

  27. comet

    My impression is that alarm bells are going off with people in the industry, as worry spreads about the continuing 787 electrical and fire incidents.

    It’s not a good look when electrical problems strike during the customer-acceptance flight, as what happened to Air India yesterday. AI could not accept the aircraft, which was sent back for repair, including the replacement of the transformer rectifier unit which feeds the cockpit display. It’s becoming a farce.

    The 787 is clearly not fit to be carrying paying passengers.

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