Assessing 787 in-flight fire, Part 2

Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has this interview with 787 program head Scott Fancher about the in-flight fire incident Tuesday of 787 ZA002.

Fancher’s interview is clearly an effort to see the bright side of an event that shouldn’t have happened and which potentially will have serious, adverse affects on Boeing. The headlines are justifiably worrisome and the Wall Street analysts are weighing in with negative reports.

Many will see Fancher’s comments as trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but in fact in an interview we did yesterday (Nov. 10) with KOMO Radio (Seattle), we noted there actually is a silver lining in the clouds that have gathered over Boeing.

Fancher, of course, hit on some of these: the airplane flew through the emergency and landed safely. (The cascading series of electronic failures were glossed over, but this has been reported by several media, and this column, before.)

We told KOMO Radio that this incident will give Boeing “real-time” and “live” events (as opposed to theoretical and/or simulated events) to analyze from this emergency. Potentially, assuming Boeing repairs the airplane (which, readers will recall, has already been written off and which will not be sold), this will demonstrate to customers in real-form the ease of repairing an aircraft-on-ground (AOG), as Boeing has represented to customers in sales campaigns.

Every accident or incident serves as a learning experience, and with the good fortune that this was a completely survivable incident with only one minor injury, Boeing and the regulatory authorities have the opportunity to learn not only what went wrong–and make the plane safer in the process–but also what went right.

We believe there will be new program delays, if for no other reason than the timeline that is normally required for an investigation of this type. Whether there are program delays induced from the cause and fixes that might be required (which we tend to believe will be the case) remains to be seen.

On the subject of delays

Someone always sees humor in adversity, particularly when nobody was hurt. We had this email exchange with a reader:

Reader: Will be interesting to see who blames who for the next delay to be announced:

  • Boeing will blame RR and Hamilton Sundstrand;
  • RR will blame Hamilton Sundstrand;
  • Hamilton will blame ???;
  • Alenia will blame Boeing on not-building at higher rates;
  • Boeing will blame Airbus on binding too many RR personnel drawn away from the T1000 because of the T900; and
  • Airbus will blame Boeing for binding too much RR personnel drawn away from the XWB because of the T1000.

Us: You are WARPED! (smiley face)

Reader:…just like the T900 IPT disk…

10 Comments on “Assessing 787 in-flight fire, Part 2

  1. well at the beginning he acknowledges it as a serious incident, but after that it all reads like a minor incident that only proved how well everything else worked.

    Its not doom and gloom either, but in the end it simply boils down to money. Further delay is pretty much guarantueed. Repairing the aircraft will cost money (if they repair it, but i think the they’ll do it for PRs sake alone even if cold calculus might argue otherwise[not saying that it does, its just a possibility]). If there is need for a design change then they’ll need to rework even more, possible knockon effect on production ramp up, delieveries etc etc

    Boeing hasnt had a decent buffer in the 787 programme for years? now and everytime something happens it has an near immediate effect on schedule, production, PR, deliveries and consequently costs.

  2. Since it has now been 2 days since the incident, I can assume there is a design change, to say the least? Had it simply been an electronic box R&R, that would have been done. Wire harnesses, etc. may well have been damaged/burned, along with other equipment. It is obvious this was not a large fire, too, just big enough to cause enough concern to keep the B-787 test fleet on the ground.

    Since there was a crew of some 30-40 aboard, was it possible for any of them to do any fire fighting? If so, what was the results? Did they put the fire out and slow or stop other systems failures? Is the aft (or foreward) electronics bay accessable in flight? If not, then the only firefighting could only happen after a burn through of the floor.

  3. KC135TopBoom :Since there was a crew of some 30-40 aboard, was it possible for any of them to do any fire fighting? If so, what was the results? Did they put the fire out and slow or stop other systems failures?

    Never – NEVER – try to pee out an electrical fire.

  4. ” .. the ease of repairing an aircraft-on-ground (AOG), as Boeing has represented to customers in sales campaigns .. ”

    Do I detect a slightly sardonic tone?

    Mishaps like this one certainly provide well for coming to an improved understanding in respect to modern materials in a fully electric plane.

    On the other hand I don’t see why grokking this has to happen so very
    late in this project.
    Modern design principles mandate that you have a well founded understanding
    of all risk _before_ you start to _design_ the final product.
    And if you think there is no risk think again, hard because you are sailing into unknown unknowns at a haphazard speed.

  5. There sometimes are very fortunate aspects to an event and as bad as this fire on this 787 Test aircraft appears to be, just imagine what the effects of the “uncontrolled” fire, would have been on the future of the 787 program:

    1. If this “incident” had occurred at high altitude during the test flight
    2 If the Ram air generator had not deployed, all power and flight data having been lost
    3. If it had been unable to land immediately, as it had to, saving everybody on board
    4. If there had NOT been an airport nearby
    5. If the fire had occurred AFTER the 787 had gone into service
    6. If it had have been a full flight with 250+ passengers

  6. I am surprised that the number of persons on board has jumped from 30 to 42. Especially as Mr. Fancher seems to hint that tests were being performed on approach (at 1000 ft altitude).
    Sort of caught between 2 wheels here. They don’t want to openly admit they were performing tests in a reckless manner (with way too many personnel on board), but they don’t want to openly admit that this could easily happen on any of their production aircraft, hance the comment about the risks of flight testing.

    So maybe somebody in the press could ask Boeing point blank if this was an incident that occurred due to flight testing or is this a production issue?

    I believe the answer would be most revealing.

    • Aero Ninja. You posted an identical comment on Jon’s Flightblogger page.

      At least do us the favor of putting in more effort than a cut-n-past to voice your “passionate” concerns… you do realize it’s all the same people on all these different sites, right?

  7. nah, no matter how bejeweled, this is a sow’s ear.
    and, may i add gratuitously, a completely predictable and predicted result of lack of objective design sanity-testing eventually leading to blood-testing.
    public relations obfuscation is no substitute for good engineering.
    boeing must realize the credibility clock is ticking…don’t they?

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