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.

The flights follow a series of inspections on the airplanes’ aft electronics bays. No testing will be performed on the flights.

The team investigating the incident in Laredo has developed a detailed understanding of the ZA002 incident, though more work remains to complete the investigation. In addition to the information already released about the incident, data show that:
*       The total duration of the incident was less than 90 seconds.
*       The fire lasted less than 30 seconds.
*       The airplane concluded the event in a configuration that could have been sustained for the time required to return to an airport suitable for landing from any point in a typical 787 mission profile.

The team in Texas has completed inspection of ZA002 and has begun to prepare to install a new power panel and new insulation material. The team also is repairing minor structural damage that occurred during the event. This damage will be addressed with standard repair techniques in the airplane structural repair manual. The team is currently evaluating the timeline for completion of the repair work.

The incident on ZA002 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.

No decision has been reached on when flight testing of the 787 will resume. Before that decision can be made, we must complete the investigation and assess whether any design changes are necessary. Until that time, Boeing cannot comment on the potential impact of this incident on the overall program schedule.

What we’re hearing:

As of yesterday, the exact cause of the fire still was undetermined. Until the cause is pinpointed, Boeing can’t determine what, if any, design changes may be required. Among the areas of investigation:

  • Hardware failure;
  • Software failure;
  • Foreign object damage, either in production or during some later stage;
  • Human error; and
  • Failure related to airplane systems design flaws or testing systems flaws.

None of these areas of investigation, which are mostly likely not all-inclusive, is anything out of the ordinary for something of this nature.

As we previously noted, the investigative timeline alone is, in our view, most likely to cause an additional delay. Any redesign, particularly if it involves systems, should one be necessary, would add to a delay, perhaps substantially.

(We also expected new delays related to the cumulative effect of existing challenges, not the least of which continues to be the Alenia tail section. These will be masked by any delays coming from the fire.)

Also as we previously noted, there is a silver lining in all this. Boeing gets to validate theories for damage repair; the airplane flew successfully through the event (and, most importantly, no lives were lost nor were there serious injuries); and Boeing learns a great deal from this emergency. Certainly Boeing would not wish to learn through “live fire,” so-to-speak, but better now than during a passenger flight.

28 Comments on “Boeing repositions two 787s, probe continues

  1. Given the list you provided, I wonder how the investigation can substantiate the cause as emenating from hardware or foreign object in that there was substantial burning and destruction of the panel.

    This is a field of study and “forensics” that must know how to discern these sort of things. I guess there are recordings of the flight and other evidence that could shed some understanding. It would be reassuring if one of these was the culprit with no need to redesign.

  2. Well, my guess that the B-787 would return to flight testing this week seems to be wrong. But, I suspect if the cause of the fire is not known by now (some two weeks since it happened), then this incident may never be fully understood.

    NTSB forensic testing of electrical components has been widely successful in the past, down to being able to determine what light filiments were burning at the time, I don’t know if they could determine what capacitors, resistors, chip sets, relays, etc. may or may not be involved.

    What doesn’t make sense is Boeing has FAA approval to fly ZA-001 (RR powered) and ZA-005 (GE powered) home, but not to fly ZA-003 (RR), ZA-004 (RR), and ZA-006 (GE). Surely the P-100 and P-200 panels in these 5 jets have been checked, as well as those in the 25 + B-787 sitting around Boeing Field?

    Even the much more dangerous situation on the RR equipped A-380s have not been grounded by the FAA, or EASA because of the uncontained engine failure. The current groundings of the A-380s are by the airlines that own them.

    No, I am not minimumizing the fire aboard ZA-002, any fire on any airplane is a serious situation, but in the scheme of things an engine throwing its guts anywhere and everywhere can (and has) instantly kill someone (remember the DL MD-88 uncontained engine failure several years ago in Florida?).

  3. KC135 It has only been one week so maybe all will be clear by the end of two weeks and the 787 will get special EAA certifying points for fire survival, electrical scrutiny, smoke containment and passenger evacuation….all will get the certification before the year end!

  4. It is very rare when investigators are unable to pinpoint a cause, given enough time. We fully expect Boeing, Hamilton Sundstrand and the Feds to be successful.

  5. Dreamliner delay sources seem to be closely “shingled” layers.
    Removing any single ( or two or three ) issue won’t effect
    much in respect to final EIS.

    The only thing that changes imho seems to be the culprit
    taken round robin from Boeings supplier entourage.

    Has anybody followed the developement of cost deviations from planned
    and other incurred contigency expenditure ?

  6. KC135TopBoom :
    Even the much more dangerous situation on the RR equipped A-380s have not been grounded by the FAA, or EASA because of the uncontained engine failure. The current groundings of the A-380s are by the airlines that own them.
    No, I am not minimumizing the fire aboard ZA-002, any fire on any airplane is a serious situation, but in the scheme of things an engine throwing its guts anywhere and everywhere can (and has) instantly kill someone (remember the DL MD-88 uncontained engine failure several years ago in Florida?).

    The difference is, that the A380 RR 900 engine incident and its cause is now fully understood (one faulty part), whereas the cause of the 787 fire still remains completely in the dark. As long as nobody knows why one of the 787 test frames caught fire, it is reasonable to suspect the other ones to be prone to that same failure, too.

    • Additionally the A380 is a fully certified plane with 2++ years of post EIS uneventfull in service time accumulated, thus a well known entity with some accumulated trust.

      Not level of danger nor loss of life decide on groundings
      but the potential for a repeat event ( or the inability to evaluate that potential ).
      .

  7. Since I don’t want to offend CM by being too redundant, I left a comment on Flightblogger’ blog. Something to the effect that this grounding of the test fleet and the seriousness with which they are approaching a simple ferry flight, seems to indicate that the situation is much more serious than Boeing is willing to let on. This despite the fact that many have touted electrical panel fires as a fairly “common”, or perhaps as a “not so uncommon”, event.

  8. Evan indicated: The difference is, that the A380 RR 900 engine incident and its cause is now fully understood (one faulty part), whereas the cause of the 787 fire still remains completely in the dark.

    Is it one bad part or a bad design of one part – a huge difference.

    I think it will make a big difference on the 787 is whether it was a defective part or install, or is it a design issue. In building power panels I have seen some 1/2 dozen where improper termination (usually a loose lug, but also dirty/ corrosion caused added resistance – heating and the beginning of arc destroyed the breaker.

    Rolls losing the Trent 1000 on the stand and a similar oil fire induced failure on the Trent 900 is the beginning of a possible pattern, but could be random statistics. Uncontained disk failures are big issues, think back to the CF-6 failures even though they were statistically expected – still big news.

    I think with the FAA it is a “lets hold off on certification flights until we know” seems appropriate. It is different than when in service.

    • Trent:
      both failures seem to share a common path into destruction. ( burning of excess oil
      in a thermally susceptible place leading to catastrophic failure by way of
      materials degradation.) The RR statement that in each case the “entry” situation is reached on different paths is imho believable ( but need not be true 😉

      Dreamliner:
      My tentative guess is that the +-270VDC Bus/es (that is the higher voltage AC Bus rectified ) will prove to have less than benign properties. I can understand the reason for having it as it removes the 3ph-AC to DC rectifier in each solid state motor controller distributed over the airframe. The negative tradeoff imho is high parasitic inductance in the buslines and a trend towards sustained arcing fed by a low impedance bus and high rated fuses. ( i.e. arcing may not trip fuses, arcing only stops on powerloss … )

      • unlike ‘dumb’ thermal fuses, SSPCs should be readily capable of sensing and tripping on arcing.

  9. KDX125 :
    unlike ‘dumb’ thermal fuses, SSPCs should be readily capable of sensing and tripping on arcing.

    That is the naive assumption we regularly find with the introduction
    of acronym ridden super duper innovative neverseen before parts.

    Unfortunately reality is not as straightforward as that.

    You remember that a significant amount of the involved structure
    ran away not petrified but liquefied ?

  10. Its interesting that this failure occurred on approach when the engines are probably at flight idle and the airframe power demand is quite high.
    I have a nasty feeling that the issue is a very basic overload scenario.
    At 3000 ft. the environmental pack may well kick in to provide air conditioning etc. due to ambient conditions.
    A sudden and instantaneous demand for the addition of flaps/ slats/landing lights if by a fluke happened all at the same time as the environmental pack kicked in with reduced generator power due to flight idle conditions, could ask some serious questions of the protection circuits.
    It should have been a part of the design parameters, but sillier things have created issues.
    For a while I have wondered what happens in the above scenario on a dark and dirty night with one engine out and a full de-icing load.
    In an industrial scenario, with limited available power, we would have sequential load demands to avoid overload.

  11. Well, depends how good you are at programming SSPCs and on what parameters you want it to trip. The problem is loads sharing & shedding once a fault occurs, that’s not as straightforward as with thermal fuses.

    • With the high powerlevels encountered in the Dreamliner one major problem may be differentiating load from arcing in one place from a “usefull” load elsewhere.

      Anybody know if Dreamliner electrics are void of any mechanical contactors, i.e. all solid state ?

  12. KC135 makes an interesting comparison with the RR/A380 incident. It demonstrates that it is always better to discover the problems before you ship the plane, even if this entails delays. Not only do you minimize risk to passengers, it also causes less disruption to airlines who have to find alternative transport to cover planes that have been taken out of service.

    I’m interested in the PR aspect. In the absence of hard facts, it seems to me that Rolls Royce have decided to keep silent and have come in for extra criticism for doing so. Meanwhile Boeing downplayed their incident to the greatest extent. In the short term, this seems to have worked to their advantage. Assuming the problems with the 787 are more serious, as hinted by Leeham and Heidi Wood, their ultimate credibility will surely take a further hit. RR haven’t done too well so far, but they could probably retrieve the situation with a more honest but decisive approach.

    • There are a couple of articles around chiding RR for its ( in one case
      deemed stalinist) information policy pointing to Boeing for “Twitter”ing
      to the general public in a friendly stream of tweets.

      IMHO
      Unless this tweetiness is preceeded by getting a grip on the problem
      it is just so much guano piling under that birds tree.

      As it is I see this comparison in itself as a perfect example on how
      we loose effective focus. ( We focus elsewhere which is not effective 😉

      • I get the impression Boeing has actually annoyed Heidi Wood by being less than frank about what’s going on.

  13. I agree that this could have been the last two flights of 787 for this year.

    Time will say but this is not looking good.

  14. Boeing seemed to be fairly upbeat about the consequences of the fire from their statements. I find it hard to believe that EIS could slip into 2012. That sort of delay would mean a major redesign of the electrical system. If that really is what’s going to happen, it would be a major embarrassment, to say the least. To be honest I would expect flight testing to resume this year.

    FF,
    “KC135 makes an interesting comparison with the RR/A380 incident. It demonstrates that it is always better to discover the problems before you ship the plane, even if this entails delays.”

    Well, from various sources it seems that RR knew what the problem was, since their current build standard engines on the assembly line have the mod incorporated. It looks like they haven’t had the time to modify the in service frames.

  15. I am a bit puzzled by the wording used by Boeing:
    – the fire lasted less than 30 seconds
    – the airplane concluded the event in a configuration that could have been sustained for the time required to return to an airport suitable for landing from any point in a typical 787 mission profile
    – the team also is repairing minor structural damage that occurred during the event.
    So a very short fire caused structural damage (albeit small), not preventing the ac to fly, but still, she is grounded for repair and not flown back home (I agree that it is a long way from Texas).

    • Fire:
      You need about one MJoule per kg Al to get from solid at ambient temperature to a molten puddle.
      Which for the given “fire” duration (30s) is about 32kW of arcing power.
      That is in the general range of what other sources drain.

      Boeing sustainable “Configuration”:
      imho ~= enough infrastructure remained to keep the plane flying until the tanks are dry. One step above the Gimli Glider.
      That could have been the bare minimum driven by the RAT.
      They were not down to batteries only as those have a rather short runtime limit.

  16. I was told there were two 787 customers revoking their orders due to this latest incident, representing a total of more than 30 aircraft. Is this true ?
    What an impact will another major delay have on the 787 backlog ?
    Are customers really getting fed up now ?

  17. Curious :
    Given the list you provided, I wonder how the investigation can substantiate the cause as emenating from hardware or foreign object in that there was substantial burning and destruction of the panel.

    I guess, those 787 test airframes are unlike conventional aircraft.
    Usually such test airframes are crammed with additional measuring equipment,
    sitting on top of the hard- and software, logging everything and measuring
    every little fart of the aircraft.
    The Boeing engineers are now most likely digging through a mountain of
    recorded data, checking for every anomaly they can find.
    From the collected remnants, they will be able to puzzle together how
    the failure evolved.

  18. Boeing is set to announce a seventh delay in its 787 program, possibly pushing delivery out by another nine-months—at least—after the inflight electrical fire to its ZA002 on Nov. 9 (ATW Daily News, Nov. 17). On Thursday, Air Lease Corp. founder and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy, who ordered the 787 when he was Chairman and CEO of ILFC, told Bloomberg at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Panama City that the 787 will “definitely” be postponed a seventh time. “It’s a big setback for Boeing,” Udvar-Hazy said.

    Boeing has now flown ZA001 and ZA005 back to Seattle from Rapid City, S.D. and Victorville, Calif. The company is tight-lipped on the status of the investigation but insiders at Qantas engineering told ATW they believe there is a “significant problem.”

    http://atwonline.com/aircraft-engines-components/news/boeing-reportedly-set-announce-another-787-delay-after-inflight-fir

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