Boeing hopes for March or April return for 787; we think this is challenging

Update: Aviation Week’s Guy Norris has this detailed article in which the third week of March is identified as a target date for the 787 to re-enter service.

Original Post:

Boeing hopes to return the grounded 787 to the skies in March, according to  customer briefings, or April, according to news reports, following a planned briefing to the Federal Aviation Administration tomorrow.

See The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and The Seattle Times for details of the FAA briefing and Boeing’s planned program for a permanent fix. These articles suggest an April return to revenue service. The New York Times has this report. Reuters has this report.

A customer we talked with who has been briefed by Boeing said the target date is next month, which squares with another customer briefing we previously reported.

Either date sounds aggressive. The FAA has to review the proposals and satisfy itself that the approaches proposed by Boeing are safe to precede a redesign of the battery. Having been proved wrong once before, we think the FAA isn’t going to rush to judgment this time and (in any event) being the government, nothing moves quickly.

Then there is Sequestration, due to take effect March 1. The FAA’s track record on approving changes proposed by supply chains on unrelated matters that require Supplemental Type Certificates is already excruciatingly slow. Layoffs following Sequestration are expected to hit the FAA’s research and development and will this affect Boeing?

Also an unknown is the investigation into the 787 JAL fire by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB’s preliminary findings are expected in the first half of March. Will the FAA want to wait for this before moving? Furthermore, the NTSB has already criticized the FAA certification of the battery and related systems in its press briefings and is examining the certification process as part of its investigation. The tension between the FAA and NTSB is long-standing. Will the FAA take more time because it’s one of the targets of the investigation?

Having initially declaring the 787 safe, only to ground the aircraft within days, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the plane won’t be returned to service until the FAA (which is part of Transportation) is “1,000%” sure the airplane is safe. It’s a ridiculous statement, but has LaHood painted the FAA into a corner that will delay a decision about Boeing’s proposals?

Finally, having issued Special Conditions in approving the battery in the first place, will the FAA want more Special Conditions for the fix and the battery redesign?

Any and all of this will take time. There certainly is a recognition on the part of the FAA about the economic impact to the airlines from the grounding.

We don’t think this will move quickly. March-we don’t think so. April-maybe, but challenging.

52 Comments on “Boeing hopes for March or April return for 787; we think this is challenging

  1. Yep a VERY sporty course- and my guess/SWAG is that even if they get approval to test- and then fly- forget ETOPS-XXX for another 3 to 6 months.

    • ETOPS-180 is already approved, right? I can understand delaying ETOPS-330 approval but would removing ETOPS-180 actually be an option for the FAA?

      • My understanding is that when the Dreamliner fleet was grounded the 787 automatically lost all ETOPS qualifications. The reasons for the disqualification are contained in the grounding itself. In addition to ETOPS, the 787 also lost its FAA certification. In both cases it is due to a breach of conditions.

        • We don’t think it’s correct that the 787 lost certification. It was an Airworthiness Directive that requires compliance to return to the air.

          • I am not talking of the certification of the whole aircraft, only the battery system. As far as I am concerned the 787 lost its (own) certification of the battery system due to a breach of conditions.

      • My guess is that with the battery fire/smoke problems plus possible wiring issues, the ETOPs certs were immediately pulled, and a certain amount of in flight testing showing that a fire/vent system will work for at least 4 hours ( margin over 180 ETOPS ). And that will take a few hundred hours of flight test, deploying RAT, one engine out, battery out, etc. Throw in a few hard landings and ground crew testing and ground safety procedures etc and two months or so is IMO pretty minimal.

        And after the current fiasco re 1000 percent – and questions about previous assurances by the BA PR team- a real tough testing, observation, and analyis program will be minimal.

        Then of course there is the live crash dummy tests known as the public .

        Would YOU buy a used Edsel from Boeing PR ?

        Or from the VP-Chief engineer who claims BA dont need no engineers (SPEEA ) to fix the problems and sign off. ( PART of that issue went away- but there is still the TECH crowd than can put a kink in all plans )

      • I suspect FAA’s opinions on ETOPS aren’t 100% relivient. Most 787s and 787 orders are not from US customers and the Japanese, Chinese and Indians, who haven’t always been so quick to accept the FAA’s certification anyway,might now have their own, different opinion about when ETOPS can start or start again. One question that seems to have been overlooked here is what have Boeing agreed to in the specs for the aircraft due to be delivered in the next couple of years? What will it cost Boeing if FAA delay ETOPS 330 for a couple of years, which seems likely, and authorities in the home bases of customers refuse to allow ETOPS at all for a while? Another question is what will happen to future orders? Lucky for Boeing A330 and A350 slots aren’t available in the near future. Another question, what is happening to A330 lease rates lately?

  2. What we are seeing here is a massive PR push by Boeing. They set the pace and hope the FAA and others will fall in with it. There aren’t any real deadlines. They don’t control what will happen and when it happens, but they hope to give it a push.

  3. Boeing would have to prove that the battery incidents _and_ reduced service life in general
    are all due to that ominous “wrongly wired” find. ( mandates that all deliveries are wrongly wired? Yes IMHO ). Next item: Boeing must think about proving that these are the only wiring defects.

    Sequestration certainly is a looming threat!

  4. I think it’s unwise of Boeing to be leaking snippets of FUD to the media like this. I suppose they’re trying to pre-empt the NTSB and pressure the FAA by persuading the public that they have a “fix” and it’s the government being difficult… but I’m really not sure that’s a good idea given the circumstances. Since they don’t actually have a final fix – just a temporary means to reduce risk – this kind of bluster might just cause the FAA to dig in it’s heels and insist on a proper roadmap to a proper fix before allowing these containment changes to go ahead.

    I think a bit of humility instead of yet more bravado might be a better way to convince us all that “the right fix” is being worked on instead of just shoving the risks under the carpet.

    • I like your metaphor of “shoving the risks under the carpet”. That’s exactly how I see the containment box.

    • SomeoneInToulouse :
      I think it’s unwise of Boeing to be leaking snippets of FUD to the media like this. I suppose they’re trying to pre-empt the NTSB and pressure the FAA by persuading the public that they have a “fix” and it’s the government being difficult… but I’m really not sure that’s a good idea given the circumstances.

      It does seem surprising that they keep (apparently) talking to customers about timelines that they have apparently not yet discussed with the FAA. The pressure must be enormous on everyone involved, but I agree that humility and reflection seem much in demand in the current circumstances.

      Surprisingly, they are calling this a “permanent” fix. I’m sympathetic that they really cannot afford to publicly suggest that they want to move away from the current battery technology, because I’ve got to assume that the lead time for implementing that change as a condition of lifting of the grounding would spell the end of the company, at least in its current incorporated form.

      Still, I would be shocked if they are not ramping up a full fledged effort to replace the batteries that prepares detailed options for both newer Li Ion formulations and more seasoned technology.

      Further, presuming they have a suitable rework design, I would think that before they petitioned the FAA they would want to have in hand extensive failure testing so they can show definitively both that their new design prevents cell-to-cell propagation of thermal runaway, and that it can safely contain a full 8-cell burnout indefinitely.

      • Whatever one thinks of todays Boeing their PR department appears to be the best money can buy.
        The image of insuperable technological and excecution leader ship has been projected for a considerable time now and was widely accepted.

        A job well done.
        These people are not mad and have shown to know their job.

        If the current behaviour appears “mad” the assumed objectives
        just may not be the actual ones.

        What objective could need just another couple of weeks to reach some finishing line?
        I don’t think this push is for winning against a deadline ( sequestration?).
        IMHO It is for buying (a limited amount of ) time ( for what: sell stock ? )

      • It’s interesting, but also kind of terrifying from this side of the Atlantic. I would like to believe that my perception of the situation is overblown, but it just looks terrible at the moment. And the points Rensim made about the stakes for the U.S. in terms of balance of trade, and overall health of U.S. manufacturing and engineering sectors would be hard to overstate – in my opinion.

        I think it must be very difficult to know if your core culture is on track in an industry where product life-cycles are so long, but which is immersed in overlapping and much faster moving transformations of your operating environment. The changes in the world economy, competitive landscape, prevailing business philosophy, and the public/private relationship in aerospace have been huge during the interval since the 777 entered service, not to mention a merger that totally reorganized the company. All of those factors have visibly roiled the waters at Boeing, and there were often times when it appeared, to me at least, that Maybe the company had lost the thread. Yet their success continued, and their product has continued to stack up well enough it appeared.

        Through it all, the people at Boeing had to carry on with the pride and the confidence of their personal and institutional accomplishments, and believe they were making the new Boeing work. Now, though, there is glaring indication that maybe all has not been well enough. That risk tolerances and cost/benefit calculations that came into the culture half a career ago, may have been too far from established way to be sustainable in this industry. I have seen that there is a great deal to admire in the people who have devoted their careers to this company and project. It must be a terrible moment at Boeing, I think, as they tread the edge of the current cliff.

    • The PR onslaught continues… this from BBC:

      “Boeing is expected to offer ways to fix the 787’s battery problems at a meeting with the US Federal Aviation Administration on Friday.

      Ray Conner, a Boeing executive, will explain measures to prevent future battery failures, according to reports.

      Flights could resume by April if US authorities accept the proposed plan, they said.”

      This is so obviously trying to paint the FAA as “the bad guy” if they reject an early lifting of the ban that it’s painful! I really, really hope that the authority totally ignores all this BS and responds to the request in a neutral manner.

      But pretending containment is the permanent fix is really out of line IMO.

      • Forgot to mention that the BBC article goes on to give quite a balanced rebuttal of the opening lines – going over the wiring issues, fuel leak, cracked window etc. then stating that the battery problems haven’t actually been addressed.

        “Until it’s crystal clear what went wrong, the FAA will be reluctant to let the 787s resume”

  5. By the way, I loved this recent quote: ‘”The gaps between cells will be bigger. I think that’s why there was overheating,” said the source.’

    Yeah, that sounds really convincing that this is “the permanent fix”. Ahem.

  6. “Boeing hopes for March or April return for 787; we think this is challenging”

    I think that this is dreaming 🙂

  7. The FAA has always been slow to adopt NTSB recommendations, if ever. After the early 1991 runway collision at LAX between US Air-1493 (B-733) and Sky West Airlines-5569 (SA-227 Metro-III), it took over 13 years for the FAA to adopt the NTSB recommendation “that the runways be segregated with only landings or departures taking place on an individual runway”. It was only after a second (similar) incident (it did not end up in a collision or crash), at LAX in mid 2004 where a landing B-747 overflew a B-737 on the same runway awaiting departure that the NTSB’s 1991 recommendations were implemented.

    • Statistically, about 15% of the NTSB recommendations are not followed by the FAA. Often it will take a tragedy to make the FAA understand the pertinence of a recommendation.

  8. FAA/NTSB are not prone to wreck the very “American” Boeing Co … it may backfire for them too !
    I do not think, the so called “Fast pace” may work in less than two month !
    But “Sufficient” temporary solution has to be found and implemented !
    I hope to see some flying B787 at Le Bourget show!

    • You seem to put the NTSB and the FAA in the same boat. They are not. Your comment is valid for the FAA only. The NTSB is much less concerned by political considerations.

  9. Political … and Economical too !
    They have to think in US Exports balance !
    And a lot more of indemnities to add to the red ink bill !

  10. The Wall Street Journal:

    “Boeing’s proposals are geared toward demonstrating that even if another battery starts to dangerously overheat, the situation won’t turn into a crisis.”

    1- “Before takeoff, for example, pilots would be required to look at detailed battery-health information stored in the plane’s computerized maintenance files.”

    2- “In the air, 787 cockpit crews also would be ordered to repeatedly check the status of the two batteries onboard—and land immediately if they sensed a budding problem.”

    3- “The so-called metal “containment box” is intended to ensure that flames and toxic chemicals automatically will be vented outside the aircraft, preventing damage to nearby wiring or structures.”

    4- “The design of the rugged external covering also is supposed to suck oxygen out of the battery and its storage area as one more safeguard against fires.”

    5- “Some type of glass or ceramic buffers are likely to be inserted to increase the separation between the eight cells inside each battery, thereby reducing the chances of an uncontrollable thermal reaction spreading among cells.”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324048904578316340964198704.html

    • …4- “The design of the rugged external covering also is supposed to suck oxygen out of the battery and its storage area as one more safeguard against fires.”..

      Riight – Burning LI and related material at 2000 degrees F or higher create their own oxygen- which is why even nitrogen has little effect

      And what happens pray tell when on the ground ? Who provides the suction ? How ?

      Ceramic Buffers ? Hmmmm- when glass like stuff gets hot – white hot it radiates like any hot object- so unless enough ‘ cooling ” stuff is injected or circulated, it simply takes a bit longer to re radiate to the next cell . So somehow you must provide some heat transfer ‘ stuff ” at a higher pressure to cool and dispose of the heat from molten LI –

      Something is missing !!!!

  11. Don Shuper :
    Something is missing !!!!

    What is missing is common sense. Boeing has just proved to the world how dangerous its battery design is. I can hardly believe that what I am reading comes from the mighty Boeing:

    Repeatedly check the status – land immediately – containment box – ensure that flames and toxic chemicals automatically will be vented outside the aircraft – suck oxygen out of the battery and its storage area as one more safeguard against fires.

    Is Boeing gone mad?

    • And some more great news

      Paint problems found in 787 fuel leak investigation: Nikkei

      Published February 21, 2013

      Reuters

      Japanese investigators have found problems in equipment that controls a fuel-tank valve on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet that was being probed for fuel leaks, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Thursday.

      The fuel leak, found in a Japan Airlines Co jet as it taxied to a Boston runway on January 9, came amid battery problems that have since grounded the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet globally.

      There were deficiencies in the way electrical-insulating paint was applied to a mechanism that opened and closed the fuel-tank valve, the Nikkei said, citing people familiar with the matter. Transport ministry investigators also found foreign matter on a switch that operated the same mechanism.

      The investigators believe that this caused the switch to send a signal that the valve was closed when it was still half open — causing the leak, the Japanese daily said. (http://link.reuters.com/tuq26t)

      The ministry is in talks with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing about ways to resolve the problem, the newspaper said.

      The same 787 involved in the January 9 fuel leak in Boston leaked fuel from its left wing nozzle at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on January 13.

      (Reporting by Tej Sapru in Bangalore; Editing by Rodney Joyce)

      +++
      The only mad ( as in off their rockers ) is on the Bored of Directionless

      The other mad are the customer airlines – since they eventually will have to convince the public to fly on the 787 over anything larger than a large lake or over 200 miles from a landing field.

      Those responsible for the FUBAR liner will pull their gold plated rip cords long before ‘ breakeven” on the program.

      And yet today – the STOCK in BA went UP !!

      Its a mad mad world afterall !!

    • Yes. The whole project was crazy from the beginning. There is not one material thing in the project that they did right. Not one. They have already had one chance to fix the electrical system, after the Laredo emergency landing. No one has asked, and B certainly has not explained, why that fix was not a “fix.” It is disgrace and national tragedy. It is now conceivable that B could end up meeting its customers in Chap 11, if airlines start cancelling the 787 orders. No wonder A is not neoing the A330. Why would they if there is no competition? All they have to do is ramp 330 production as it is as high as they can.

  12. Boeing PR in full up-out mode

    http://787updates.newairplane.com/Mike-Sinnett-Transcript

    Mike Sinnett: My name is Mike Sinnett. I’m the vice president of Engineering and the chief project engineer for the 787 program. There’s been a lot of interest in what an electrical power system is on an airplane and how our power system is different than other airplanes. And then what role the batteries play in the power system.

    There are many systems on airplanes that need power; flight controls, avionics, air conditioning, in-flight entertainment. All of these systems on the airplane use electrical power. And because the airplane carries batteries, but only enough for some very small loads, we have to generate power while the airplane’s in the air. And then we have to safely distribute that power to the other systems on the airplane.

    Now, there’s a schematic view of the 787. One of the things you’ll see is that there’s two generators on each engine and two generators back on the auxiliary power unit. There are six generators in the 787 that provide primary electrical power versus the three on a conventionally configured airplane for the provision of electrical power.

    goes on and on and on

    also baseline for the PR

    http://787updates.newairplane.com/787-Electrical-Systems/Batteries-and-Advanced-Airplanes

    The 787 Dreamliner has two primary rechargeable batteries – the main and auxiliary power unit (APU). While identical part numbers, they serve separate purposes.

    The main battery “powers up” aircraft systems, bringing the airplane to life before the engines have been started. Once the engines are started, the electrical energy to run the systems comes from generators. It also is used to support ground operations such as refueling and powering the braking system when the airplane is towed. The main battery also provides backup power for critical systems during flight in the extremely unlikely event of a power failure. It is located in the forward electronics equipment (EE) bay, which is under the main cabin floor at the front of the airplane.

    The APU battery supplies power to start the APU, which in turn can start the airplane engines. The APU, and its battery, also serves as part of the multiple layers of redundancy that would ensure power in the rare possibility of a loss of primary sources of power.

    and on and on and on

    How accurate and factual ? U be the Judge !!

  13. EVEN more PR in WSJ

    Chief of Embattled Boeing Steers Clear of the Spotlight

    CHICAGO—The cutting-edge jetliners Boeing Co. BA +1.64% had bet its future on sat grounded, unsettling images of passengers on escape chutes splashed across TV, when Chief Executive Jim McNerney sent handwritten apologies to the chairmen of the airlines whose 787 Dreamliner batteries went up in smoke.

    Around the same time last month, he discreetly persuaded the CEOs of General Motors GM -2.18% and General Electric GE +0.17% to lend Boeing their best electrical experts, and quietly met with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

    And the accompany photo has an interesting quotes – not copyable here
    but a bit latefr

    With his storied company facing the biggest crisis of his eight-year tenure, Mr. McNerney is wagering that it is better to disappear behind the scenes to try to fix the problem than to be out front reassuring the public.

    “I’m the one who has to stand up with absolute confidence when Boeing proposes a solution to enable this technology for the world,” he said during an exclusive interview in his Chicago office. “And the only way I know how is to dive in deeply with the people doing the scientific and technical work.”

    The company is expected to submit a proposal to the FAA on Friday seeking approval for fixes that Boeing hopes will return the planes to the skies, and plans to meet with Japanese air-safety authorities next week. The proposal sets an ambitious timetable calling for passenger flights to resume as early as mid-March.

    You will have to read the rest to prevent copyright issues

  14. While Boeing is working hard to get out of this situation, I think the PR strategy is the proven “If you can’t convince them, confuse them”.

    Sending out (partly via indirect channels) non binding messages a solution is in sight, overloading the public with (hardly relevant) related technical descriptions and figures, quotes, past avihievemets, optimistic forecasts.

    The goal could be e.g. to have most of the public after some time develop a feeling actually everybody is a somehow a bit wrong here, Boeing, subcontractors, the FAA, DoT, NTSB, press, Airbus, the Japanese, airlines..

    .. that would be one up for Boeing.

  15. And a nice little torpedo from John Leahy..

    “I think Alan Mulally wanted to be gamechanging. So ‘job one’, as he would say at Ford, was ‘everything on this airplane is going to be game-changing’…

    We don’t think having an airplane flying at 41,000ft, in minus 60 degree outside temperature, should be heated electronically. We’ve got sources of power called the engines that aren’t using all their power, and you can use some of that to pressurize and heat the cabin, to deice the airplane.”

    http://www.businessinsider.com/dreamliner-problems-blamed-on-alan-mulally-2013-2

    • ….or you can choose not to use this excess bleed air from the engines and improve your fuel economy.

      • The power for the de-icing and cabin a/c still comes from the engines… the difference is that it is extracted via a shaft to the gearbox driving additional generators instead of as air.

        You save on the plumbing and you can make you engine core a little smaller. Not a huge difference for the engine if truth be told…

      • Certainly an interesting question which solution provides more efficient energy take out. And imho one should not munge aircon and deice. aircon is always on while deice has low utilisation. pneumatic deice can’t aversely affect savety relevant plane electrics. Same for pneumatic aircon.
        feeding aircon and deice from electrics mandates providing
        very strong separation between these systems.
        With bleed air you have natural diversity.

        Personally I would have waited for at least one more generation of power electronics to pass.

        • Oh, I see, you want to wait until Airbus invents the technology.

          BTW, I have not heard of an AC/pressurization or de-ice/anti-ice incident on the B-787, have you?

      • your point TopBoom being?

        Going by what has diffused through the press
        we seem to have not been aware of a significant number of 787 problems.
        ( That alone is quite the PR achievement imho )

    • Interesting part of this interview (reported on Flightglobal anyway) is JL´s comment that he too wanted a cutting edge plane to sell but the engineers overruled him. Tells you who rules in Toulouse.

  16. KC135TopBoom :
    Oh, I see, you want to wait until Airbus invents the technology.
    BTW, I have not heard of an AC/pressurization or de-ice/anti-ice incident on the B-787, have you?

    Interesting point Top Boom !

    We have to keep an eye on the enbedded resistors in the wings and nacelle through a longer probing period ! IMO
    Otherwise the bleed difference between Bleed and no Bleed, is in the ratio of 7% vs 3%
    I just read this !
    Since all modern engines need some cooling for the turbine !
    The interest I see in the electrical deicing, may be, you only use it if needed !

    But some bleed management with the help of active valves, may allow to make the same too ?? It’s a question !

  17. KC135TopBoom :
    Oh, I see, you want to wait until Airbus invents the technology.
    BTW, I have not heard of an AC/pressurization or de-ice/anti-ice incident on the B-787, have you?

    Ah Yes. Some think Boeing is on top of the innovative picking order, making everybody else automatically playing catch up. An interesting, patriotic I guess, way of thinking. While the world of the world moves on.

  18. Matt B :
    That risk tolerances and cost/benefit calculations that came into the culture half a career ago, may have been too far from established way to be sustainable in this industry.

    As soon as the 787 was introduced to the public I associated the Dreamliner name with risk. I saw risk with the technology, I saw risk with the manufacturing process and I saw risk with the timetable. Unfortunately, evereything I feared actually happened.

    Matt B :
    It’s interesting, but also kind of terrifying from this side of the Atlantic. I would like to believe that my perception of the situation is overblown, but it just looks terrible at the moment.

    I have seen that there is a great deal to admire in the people who have devoted their careers to this company and project. It must be a terrible moment at Boeing, I think, as they tread the edge of the current cliff.

    Only a handfull of people are responsible for this mess. Yet thousands will suffer the consequences. For any employee hired before 1990 the present situation must be unbearable. What happened to My Boeing?

  19. What will people here say when the A350 hits a bad snag? Excuses? Or rants like now? Can fanboys even be partial?

    • You still haven’t understood the background.
      Boeing got endless positive press.
      Airbus got endless negative press.
      Now Boeing appears to rate below Airbus.
      What does that tell how far both are really appart?
      This is not about fanboyism but about unilateral jingoism.

  20. mneja :
    The power for the de-icing and cabin a/c still comes from the engines… the difference is that it is extracted via a shaft to the gearbox driving additional generators instead of as air.

    The main difference is the quality of air in the cabin. For me personally this is very important. But from a technical point of view, I am not so sure considering the risks involved.

    • Non bleed derived cabin air is a really attractive thing.

      But my point from further up was about the efficiency difference
      in extracting energy via bleed air or moment extraction from shaft power.
      Using heat created from electric energy created from a limited efficiency thermodynamic cycle tends to lagg behind using heat from a compression cycle.
      The same ambivalence exists in combined heat and power plants.

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