FAA set to clear 787, Japan may require more: KING 5; production test flights resume

The Federal Aviation Administration appears ready to green-light the Boeing fix to its 787 fleet, but authorities in Japan may not–so reports KING 5 TV (NBC Seattle).

KING 5, The Wall Street Journal and others are reporting the FAA could clear the fix on Friday, April 19.

Meantime, Bloomberg reports Boeing has been authorized to resume test flights of production aircraft.

30 comments on “FAA set to clear 787, Japan may require more: KING 5; production test flights resume

  1. From what I’ve read the Japan transport ministry will fall in line with the FAA, but will require operators to introduce additional safety measures including remote monitoring of battery data, and will call for more frequent battery inspections. Airlines will also have to carry out test flights before returning 787′s to commercial service.

  2. Getting the aircraft back in the air without finding the root cause, with the same batteries within 4 months would be a great Boeing/FAA achievement.

    Now only explain the passengers why the Japanese authorities are more carefull then the FAA, while the NTSB brings out their broader review on design and certification of the 787.

    Some smart decoys and a string of positive, unrelated 787 newsfacts (by ~independent observers) can overload the public/ press eye and turn away attention / balance public perceptions.

    • because the Japanese are not as intimately involved with the work by Boeing over the last months as the FAA.
      Trust and check: Trust the FAA and allow the 787 back in the air, but check wether reality is willing to fall in line with predictions and analysis.

      continuous harping on about not finding a root cause is Newtonian to unrelated positive 787 news from other independent observers: “equal but opposite”
      if you have reason to doubt the FAA, lay out these reasons. show where their work on overseeing the certification of the current solution is lacking or where Boeing made a wrong assumption. Not knowing the root cause is not such a reason – Fail safety is one of the basis under aerospace certification – assume it fails for whatever reason and show that safe flight is not impacted. If safe flight is impacted, show that the failure is immediately obvious and ensure safe flight under “get home loads”and safe landing.
      I paraphrase, but that’s about what it comes down to.

      • “if you have reason to doubt the FAA, lay out these reasons. show where their work on overseeing the certification of the current solution is lacking or where Boeing made a wrong assumption.”

        The FAA allowed the (already suspect) Lion Ion batteries to be certified and enter passenger service. Largely delegating certification of the electronic system to Boeing, even after an FAA pilot had to do a black cockpit landing of a burning 787 himself.

        Then they only intervened after saying, shoulder to shoulder with Boeing, they stood 100% behind the 787s safety, the second battery incident, the Japanese authorities grounding of their fleet first and not asking questions on >150 unscheduled battery’s exchanges on the small 787 fleet.

        What are the reasons for your strong faith in the FAA?

      • Hindsight is 20/20.
        There was no reason to doubt the safety any 787 system.
        the FAA pilot (apparently) did a SUCCESSFUL black cockpit landing. They tested all the known, predicted and hypothesized failure mechanisms. they all (apparently) proved fail-safe.

        All regulators let the OEMs do their own certification. The FAA is not responsible for the airworthiness of Boeing planes, Boeing is.
        The FAA provides a set of rules to follow, but following these rules is not an excuse for incorporating unsafe details. Not everything is covered by the rules, and then you contact the FAA and ask them to work with you to find a valid way to show the airworthiness.
        A judge is not responsible for making laws or proving innocence – The FAA only determines whether the correct rules were followed.

    • keesje :

      Now only explain the passengers why the Japanese authorities are more carefull then the FAA, while the NTSB brings out their broader review on design and certification of the 787.

      Could it have something to do with the fact that there are only six 787s currently in service with a US airline, while Japanese carriers operate more than half the world fleet?

  3. Sorry Ikkeman,
    The fact that FAA have now separated the issue of allowing the 787 back into the air from its ETOPS status must surely be sufficient evidence that there are internal divisions within FAA regarding their past performance.Their new approach IMHO(I hate acronyms) is a classic case of CYA.

    • Of course there is division in the FAA. Where you put 2 people together, you’ll get 3 opinions, and engineers are worse then average In My Humble Opinion.

      Still, safety is not an absolute concept (not flying will always be more safe than flying) and certificates do not require unanimity. Someone (or a small group) decides all doubts are adequately addressed, even if some people still have these doubts.

      Just because an unknown-unknown popped up on a relatively revolutionary a/c like the 787, does not mean the FAA or Boeing did not do a good job. new information emerged, and was acted upon. the problem is now contained in a fail-safe solution.
      I think if the battery failure rate does not drop, a redesign will still be the final solution, just for operational and dispatch reliability reasons. but this problem is contained, now for the next one.

  4. What it comes down to is that if they have got it right this time and there are no more battery/electrical system events, then all is well. If not, well that’s another story.

    Is there anything to the comment in the other post about the fuel system leaks?
    Does anybody know more about this?

    • The fuel leak were purportedly linked to less than carefully masking electrical connection for painting. ( could be true, could be a fib )

      • What actually is more damning:
        Having these workmanship issues on a regular basis
        or
        the act of employing people in the first place
        that seem to lack qualification for acceptable work execution.

  5. How and where are the aircraft modified? They can hardly move to seattle, so the modification specialists have to travel the earth. Is there any information regarding the required length … single day or a week-long hangar holiday?

    @Airtommy: I needed to use Google, too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_your_%5Bslang word for the rear part of your body, starting with “a” and just three letters long]

  6. Andrew :
    Sorry Ikkeman,
    The fact that FAA have now separated the issue of allowing the 787 back into the air from its ETOPS status must surely be sufficient evidence that there are internal divisions within FAA regarding their past performance.Their new approach IMHO(I hate acronyms) is a classic case of CYA.

    Airtommy :
    Hi, Ikkeman.
    I hate akronyms. What does “CYA” mean? (From a german reader.)

    CYA is shorthand for “Cover Your A$$” – American slang for a politically expedient measure designed to deflect or conceal responsibility for incorrect or unpopular actions. Which is why I am confused about the point he is trying to make, since any FAA move to revisit its decision to certify the 787 for ETOPS 180 (assuming that’s actually true) is a tacit admission that it may have made a grave mistake, which is the exact opposite effect of classic CYA.

    • ..and “cover your arse/ass” is an English/American idiom that means “taking action primarily to defend oneself against future accusations.”

  7. Quote: “What are the reasons for your strong faith in the FAA?”

    Valid question. First answer, you *have* to have faith as it’s the only authority to stand between the interests of the manufacturer, wanting to see the birds flying and selling again, and the customers, looking for a safe and cheap way of transportation. An obvious trade-off at times.

    I think it would be more than remarkable when they clear the 787 before the NTSB had a final word though. Not that it seems to matter much (remember the NTSB already complaining in public?), but, as mentioned on this site, the ‘code’ would imply that kind of professional patience.

    It would be great to see her flying again but the sheer dominance of the PR over valid concerns and that amazing confidence in the fix (sending eng. teams out, setting up the airlines and all of this way before the FAA cleared anything) leaves me with mixed impressions. I’ve asked it before: who, if safety is the priority, sets the pace and who actually did regarding the 787 grounding?

    To follow up, does the decision of the Japanese operators still stand to first go with cargo only flights?

    • Simon,

      I disagree on a small point – it is BA’s interest to deliver safe a/c. The FAA only facilitates.
      I do also see the growing tendency of commercial interests slowly taking over from safety in aerospace. And I dislike it.
      Building them cheaper rather then better stifles innovation and starts a race to the bottom rather than the top. Unfortunately, engineers are doing such a great job, lifting safety to such a high standard that we have few arguments to the commercial guys why we should do more testing/ invest in better methods/ generally spend money.

  8. keesje :
    What are the reasons for your strong faith in the FAA?

    First, the rest of the world’s aviation regulatory bodies seem to follow the FAA’s lead. If it’s good enough for them, what do we know that they don’t?

    Second, I like to think the people that work at the FAA are qualified professionals doing their best with what they have because they are human beings with families and consciences like everybody else.

    Guys, I’m not an engineer and I don’t have any tech background. I’m just an attorney who flies across the pacific on business a lot, and sometimes my family comes along. Hence, this airplane can potentially become a big part of my life, and if there’s something seriously wrong with it, I NEED TO KNOW. I came here to educate myself because Scott appeared to be a respected source who was heavily cited within the industry. His posts and insights have in fact proved very helpful. The comments section, on the other hand, has been much much less so. I get it now that some of you fellas get a kick out of rooting for aircraft manufacturers like sports teams. That’s fine for topics like market share, economics, plane specs, etc. But would it be too much to ask you guys to set aside the pissing contest when the topic concerns the safety of particular aircraft? Some of us have to get on these things.

    If the FAA isn’t good enough for the job then please point me to a more qualified authority. But insinuating that the FAA is either incompetent or even corrupt or dishonest, with nothing more, well that just makes me afraid to fly. That doesn’t do me an ounce of good at all. If the FAA ever certifies the A350 or anything else new, should I trust what it says then?

    • Joegoboy,
      I think the 787 is safe, especially so with regard to the battery system because of the changes that were made. Even though I’ll probably get flamed for this next statement, I’ll say it anyway. I also think the 787 battery system as originally designed is safe, except for the fact that the proper quality controls for battery cell production were not in place to support that safety.

      But hey, I’m not an aviation or aircraft expert by any stretch. I’m just a scientist that works in a related field and is very interested in the 787 program because I’m an aircraft enthusiast and grew up in the Northwest. So, my opinion and 5 cents will get you a nickel.

      Many comments on this blog exhibit conspiratorial tones, suggesting that somehow the FAA is in Boeing’s pocket, or that the FAA is being directed by congress to go easy on Boeing because they provide jobs and are the “home team”. From what I’ve read about how the events have unfolded, I don’t think the evidence supports the conspiracy theories.

      Much has been made of the fact that the FAA delegated the vast majority of the certification activity for the 787 to Boeing trusted authorities, individuals paid by Boeing to oversee design and test activities on behalf of the FAA. What’s forgotten in this is that FAA certification activities have been conducted this way for years and years. This is done out of necessity because there is no practical way the FAA could maintain expertise on every part of a system as complex as commercial airliner. The manufacturer, in this case Boeing, is the expert on their product. The government never will be, there is just too much to know. The manufacturer also assumes all the risk, both financially and legally. The government will never be willing to do this.

      For perspective, lets also not forget that this grounding is unprecedented. The last time the FAA grounded a commercial airliner, the DC-10, was in 1979 after a horrific crash that claimed the lives of 273 people. It turns out that this was just the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. In two separate prior incidents, the aft cargo door of the DC-10 ripped off in flight. The first luckily involved no loss of life, but the second resulted in the deaths of 346 people. So, I think it is obvious that in grounding the 787 after 2 battery incidents with no serious injury, the FAA is being much, much more proactive.

      So, what does this mean? Well, it’s been working this way for years and I think the overall aviation safety record in the United States speaks for itself.

      Is the system perfect? No. Could the system be improved? Yes. Is asking appropriate tough questions when safety issues arise a good thing? Yes Is that what is happening here? In my opinion, yes. But then again, my opinion really does not count for all that much.

      • Battery system is save. Cell quality …

        Not a given. NTSB/JTSB reports talked about “unexpected” high current changes during use. IMHO the abuse in use assumption still stands. i.e. the cells are primadonna tech but still need external events to go postal. And that has not positively been fixed.

      • Hi Uwe,
        Cell quality and abuse in use (in that order) are indeed the key issues with regard to Li-ion cells.

        Apparently, since the FAA is going to give it’s approval, Boeing was able to show through analysis supported by testing that the battery is now safe enough. This time, with much greater scrutiny of the manufacturing process, inspection protocols, and abuse conditions.

        As far as I can tell, this means less than one battery thermal runaway for every 10 million flight hours, and less than one battery fire for every 1 billion flight hours.

        I believe my assumptions are the same as Boeing’s assumptions:
        1) Thermal runaway does not necessarily lead to battery fire
        2) Battery fire is always caused by thermal runaway

        If I recall correctly, the probability of less than 1 per 1 billion is the same standard for failure of all the flight control systems, including back-ups.

        Thinking we can depend fully on any regulatory agency alone is a bit of a fools dream. Trust will always have to be placed in the manufacturers and the regulators.

    • How do you handle the trust thing so far?

      Maybe it helps to think about the implications any kind of lax safety handling would have for the authorities and the ones selling tickets and planes. None of the mentioned is keen to see either prolonged groundings or worse. So there is a fair amount of safety in place just because anything less would lead to a severe impact on the market. Now that’s a vague description, apologies for that, but I’d say it describes the pressure acting on all participants quite good.

      And I wouldn’t read the comments in the wrong way. I see them as notes pointing out the deviation from a fictional(!) path called the optimum. :)

    • Joegoboy :
      First, the rest of the world’s aviation regulatory bodies [...]

      World’s aviation regulatory bodies don’t have to follow FAA’s lead. At the moment other regulators like EASA (European Union) or JCAB (Japan) accept aircraft certified by FAA. Just like your driving license may not accepted in all countries. That my change in future then FAA won’t be able to check on its own manpower and has to outsource more and more certification work. That problem occurs due to shrinking federal government agencies.

      Joegoboy :
      Second, I like to think the people that work at the FAA are qualified professionals doing their best with what they have because they are human beings with families and consciences like everybody else.

      FAA personal are professionals with maybe families. So these professionals try to keep their jobs. I can’t tell you how many FAA professionals with consciences may have quite during the last years.

      Joegoboy :
      If the FAA isn’t good enough for the job then please point me to a more qualified authority.

      http://www.taeco.com/Approvals/approvals.swf – These authorities once trusted FAA. 787 battery malfunctions may have woke them up to keep an eye on what’s going on. I guess FAA is qualified but with too few personal to keep up with more and more complex aircraft.

      Joegoboy :
      If the FAA ever certifies the A350 or anything else new, should I trust what it says then?

      A350 will be certified by EASA. A350 was expected to have also lithium batteries. Not the same chemical mix as Boeing’s batteries and therefore more stable. Airbus now will also led certify the heavy but save NiCd because Airbus can’t wait for surprising new battery standards set up by FAA.

      You may remember Concorde’s maiden flight in 1969. Boeing 2707 was cancelled in 1971. Then came the U.S. Noise Control Act of 1972.

      Flying even without the 787 boom box is still far more save than going by car or walking through most cites of the US. I’m talking about regular violence and not about rare terrorism.

    • Any aircraft you fly on from western airports are safe. period.

      The FAA is peer reviewed by the European regulatory body, both are eminently capable and trustworthy. Every nation/region in the world claims the right to allow or ban a/c from flying in their airspace, so the safety of something like an 787 is a global consensus. The discussion here is more about method than substance.

      the pissing contest in the comments section is usually about minutiae. Don’t forget that when the FAA had a credible reason to doubt the safety of the 787 they (and the rest of the worlds regulators) immediately banned 787 operations despite the huge cost associated.
      Safety first.
      Now Boeing engineered a fail-safe solution to the problem. They improved the batteries so they shouldn’t fail (again) – they improved the batteries so that if they do fail, they fail more benignly – and finally they designed a fail-safe so that if the battery does fail, and fails less benignly, the failure is contained.
      All this on a system that is not actually used at any time after engine start-up at the gate. So if the plane taxi’s, you can rest assured nothing went wrong.

  9. FAA has no choice but to put the 787 back in the air. It doesn’t matter whether the 787 is “1000 per cent safe” or not. Boeing is the biggest American exporter. FAA must approve 787 return to flight status. FAA is subject to political pressures. Everyone seems to have forgotten that FAA funding was withheld by Congress in August 2011. Remarkably, a day or so after the 787 was approved, FAA funding was restored.

    They biggest story in the history of the 787 is that FAA credibility (rightly or wrongly) has been damaged. Japan may go beyond what FAA requires. China (correct me if I am wrong) has not yet approved the 787 at all. It used to be that if FAA approved a plane, it was approved for the world. I wonder if that will still be the case? FAA credibility is badly damaged. That is a bigger story than whether the 787 flies next week or not.

    • It’s especially hard to deny certification if the numbers from analysis and testing say that all known or suspected causes of the previous incidents should no longer present a problem. Could they be wrong? Sure, they were wrong the first time. Being wrong, however, does not imply negligence or coercion. Nor should it prevent moving forward in reasonable ways.

      What happened with the 787 battery can happen with any new technology on any aircraft and in fact has happened many times on many aircraft that the FAA has certified in the past.

      Yes, the Japanese are probably going to require additional safety measures, but nothing heroic from what I’ve seen.

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