Putting perspective on the 787

Update: The Wall Street Journal has a long article (subscription required) discussing the problem and the possibility the FAA could release the 787s for service if it approves interim steps designed by Boeing. It also has this illustration:

 

Original Post:

The grounding of the Boeing 787 by the US Federal Aviation Administration wasn’t entirely unexpected, based on discussions we had in the last 48 hours with people in the US and in Europe.

Although the FAA did not pull the Airworthiness Certificate of the airplane, the grounding had virtually the same effect.

Airlines throughout the world followed suit and some of the regulatory agencies followed the FAA lead.

We’ve been inundated with media calls asking about the ramifications. Here’s a synopsis of the questions and our responses.

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Thoughts about the FAA-Boeing 787 program review

Here is the Airworthiness Directive.

As the Boeing 787 problems evolve from annoying, in-service teething issues into a fire, a full program review by the Federal Aviation Administration, a second battery issue and  now a grounding, the program review raises almost as many questions as it hopes to solve.

The FAA has never been adequately staffed, nor staffed with enough experts, to conduct program development and certifications without relying on the manufacturers and supply chains to provide analysis and expertise.

Since the creation of the FAA, this system has worked pretty well. Although some may argue that the FAA and the industry are too cozy—and sometimes there certainly appears to be justification in this criticism—it’s in nobody’s interest to screw up. The airplane makers and their stakeholders have to make safe airplanes. The FAA—the regulators—have to assure that the airplanes are safe. The airlines, who carry the passengers, clearly need safe airplanes.

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Boeing: 787 fire caused by FOD, design changes coming, no word on delay

Boeing issued this press release at 3pm PST Nov. 24:

Boeing Initiates Changes to 787 Power Panel, Updates to Software

EVERETT, Wash., Nov. 24, 2010 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] is developing minor design changes to power distribution panels on the 787 and updates to the systems software that manages and protects power distribution on the airplane. These changes come as the result of what has been learned from the investigation of an onboard electrical fire on a test airplane, ZA002, earlier this month in Laredo, Texas.
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Boeing repositions two 787s, probe continues

Update, Nov. 17, 4:30PM PST:

This article from Europe talks about efforts by Safran group to acquire Zodiac, which is a supplier on the Boeing 787. The article refers to possible interest (or lack of it, actually) by Hamilton Sundstrand as a potential bidder for Zodiac and that Zodiac is a competitor to Sundstrand.

As it happens, a company called ECE is subcontracted by Sundstrand on the P100 control panel on the 787, where the fire originated on ZA002. ECE is a subsidiary of–Zodiac.

Update, Nov. 17, 9:00 AM PST:

Heidi Wood, the aerospace analyst at Morgan Stanley, issued this brief note today:

What’s new: Yesterday, Boeing issued a press release update on the 787 highlighting the ongoing investigation into the test flight fire incident. While test plane ZA002 remains in Texas, 2 other 787s (ZA001 & ZA005) have returned to Seattle until a resolution can be determined.

What Does This Mean? Our read-between-the-lines interpretation of the press release:

(1)Boeing: “Boeing has established a plan to fly two aircraft back to Seattle.” “No decision has been reached on when flight testing will resume.”

Translation: The other planes (may) have an issue too. Which suggests 2 things: 1) it’s unlikely flight tests will resume shortly (days, a week), 2) bringing test planes back means it’s not de facto a quick fix. We estimate flight test resumption in late December, early 2011.

(2)Boeing: “The incident demonstrated many aspects of the safety and redundancy in the 787 design, which ensure that if events such as these occur, the airplane can continue safe flight and landing”.

Translation: The vagueness alerts us, as it sidesteps claiming the systems all worked. This tells us the multiple redundancies may not have performed as they should have, which dovetails with what our sources have been asserting. We’re impressed by the honest admission; we believe this is an FAA chief concern.

(3)Boeing: “We must complete the investigation and assess whether any design changes are necessary.”

Translation: Design changes are necessary. Questions arising about software, hardware redesign extend the horizon & could push first delivery to 2012.

(4)Boeing: “Until that time, BA cannot comment on the potential impact…on the…program schedule.”

Translation: Delay ahead. They just don’t know how extensive yet to set a new, credible target. When they do, they’ll officially announce the next delay.

Original Post:

Boeing just issued this update on the 787 program:

EVERETT, Wash., Nov. 16, 2010 – While the investigation into the incident onboard 787 Dreamliner ZA002 continues, Boeing has established a plan to fly two other aircraft, ZA001 and ZA005, back to Seattle from Rapid City, S.D., and Victorville, Calif. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has reviewed and approved the plans.

ZA001 was undergoing refueling in South Dakota when the incident on ZA002 occurred and the company decided to forgo additional flights. ZA005 was on remote deployment for testing in California.

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Airbus has its challenges, too

While headlines have understandably been focused on Boeing this week, Airbus has its problems, too. The Qantas A380 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine uncontained failure continues to generate news stories. The QF 32 flight details still are emerging, and one–in an email we received today–gives a good example of “cascading failures” that can happen in an emergency.

Recall that the 787 ZA002 had a series of cascading failures following the fire in the electronics bay, the details of which have yet to be learned beyond some generalities. Here’s what we learned about the cascading failures associated with QF 32:

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