NTSB on 787 Certification: There were a number of small but important news items to come out of the press briefing Thursday from the National Transportation Safety Board were several references to examining the certification involving the batteries of the Boeing 787.
The Federal Aviation Administration previously announced a full 787 program review about the design, production and systems.We’ve already opined about whether the FAA, Boeing and the suppliers can objectively review their own work.
Congress has already said it will hold hearings, a move for which we hold general disdain.
In our coverage yesterday, we had this paraphrased statement by the NTSB chairman:
We are looking at certification standards, whether they were adhered to and whether they were appropriate. What we have seen in these two events do not comport with any design to protect against the battery events. Those systems did not work as intended. We need to understand why.
But we welcome the NTSB certification review. The independent NTSB, staffed by professional investigators, is far more able to assess the work of the FAA and Boeing than is Congress.
There have been many articles that suggest the entire 787 process was a “rush.” Certainly the original time frame–four years from launch to supposed EIS–was unrealistic. But with nearly four years of delays, we’d be hard-pressed to say the program was “rushed.”
There are those who say Boeing believes the grounding was unwarranted. Gordon Bethune, a former Boeing executive and former CEO of Continental Airlines, was blunt in his view that the FAA over-reacted.
After the first incident, the JAL fire, we took a measured view that the incident could have been a one-0ff and flights could continue. But after the second battery incident, it was clear that the most prudent course was to put the fleet on the ground.
Although the ANA incident did not result in a fire, given the smoke and melting discovered on the ground, we can’t help but wonder if a fire would have occurred had the plane not landed immediately. We shudder to think what the outcome would have been had JAL been at 41,000 ft in mid-flight between Tokyo and Boston. Clearly something dramatic is wrong. As the NTSB pointed out, the systems designed to prevent these things did not work–and the NTSB doesn’t know why.
The grounding is a blow to the corporate and employee pride of Boeing, to be sure. Everyone who can is working overtime to discover what went wrong and how to fix it. Boeing’s customer service is rightly known to be known to be among the best in the industry.
Whether the 787 is grounded to two months, four, six or eight, we know the airplane will be back in the air, safer than ever before.
At the Airline Economics conference we attended last week in Dublin, customers expressed confidence in the 787 and Boeing. There were no hand-wringing and no recriminations, just questions over how long the plane will be grounded. One of the best ways we find over time to gauge opinion is in these settings, where “cocktail talk” proves to be more candid than seeking official statements from corporate communications departments.
Before the NTSB conference, it was our opinion that the 787 would be grounded for at least two months. We won’t be the least bit surprised if it is longer. But there won’t be any abandonment of the airplane and Boeing will get through this.
After all, Boeing worked through four years of delays and the billions of dollars in cost overruns. A few more months won’t have any long-lasting effect.
And most importantly, nobody lost their lives, nobody was injured (except some usual minor ones in the emergency evac of ANA) and there wasn’t a hull loss.
SPEEA Countdown: The Everett Herald has a good story about the labor dispute between Boeing and its engineers’ union, SPEEA. The last thing Boeing needs at this time of uncertainty over the 787 is a strike, and mid-February is the critical time.