Clues emerge on 787 service from FAA meeting

Clues emerged from a variety of news reports following the meeting Friday between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration that point to when the 787 will be able to reenter service.

The most tantalizing: Boeing will need up to eight weeks from the FAA green light before the 787 will return to service.

Since we don’t expect the FAA to approve proposed remedies any time soon (a relative term, to be sure), we think it could easily be May or June before the 787 returns to service. The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board isn’t likely until the first half of March. We believe the FAA will want to see and digest this report before drawing is own conclusions. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will take the FAA to review the NTSB findings and  Boeing’s proposal.

Assuming the FAA concurs with the Boeing recommendations–which may or may not be a safe assumption–what kind of testing will the FAA require, both in the lab and in the air, and how long will this take? Only after all this would the FAA green light the fixes and the “up to eight weeks” timeline kick in.

Here are the key news articles and some key excerpts:

Seattle Times: FAA to ‘closely’ examine Boeing’s proposed 787 fix.

But the agency indicated it won’t rush to get the Dreamliners back in the air despite the crisis the grounding of the planes has brought to Boeing and its customers.

“The safety of the flying public is our top priority, and we won’t allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we’re confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks,” said an FAA statement.


What’s unclear is how much testing the FAA will require to validate the safety of the revamped battery.


To prove the new battery setup performs as promised, Boeing may have to do similar testing. Such tests would have to be done in a controlled lab environment not on a flight test, Barnett said.

The FAA will likely demand flight tests will be needed, however, to prove the new venting system works, putting it through multiple pressurization cycles as the jet takes off and lands.

How fast could all the testing be completed?

In January, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees the FAA, said the 787 wouldn’t be allowed to fly again until authorities are “1,000 percent sure” it is safe.

Boeing indicated in private meetings with key members of Congress on Wednesday that it hopes to get permission for the 787s to fly passengers again by April.

Reuters: Boeing proposes full 787 battery fix.

Boeing did not propose abandoning the lithium-ion batteries and is not working on a backup or longer-term fix for the problem that has grounded its entire fleet of 50 Dreamliners for nearly five weeks, three sources familiar with the plan said.


If the Boeing plan is approved by FAA Administrator Huerta and Transportation Secretary LaHood, company officials expect the 787 fleet to return to service within eight weeks, one source said.

Wall Street Journal: FAA: 787 can’t return to service until fire risks are fixed.

The meeting was viewed as a first of many pivotal steps in Boeing’s effort to resume flights for its flagship plane despite the inability of the company and government investigators in the U.S. and Japan to determine the root cause of two incidents last month in which the Dreamliner’s batteries burned.


After a detailed technical briefing, senior FAA officials reiterated they needed more time to analyze the proposed fixes, according to one knowledgeable person, and indicated they weren’t ready to commit to a company request to start flight tests as soon as early March. (Emphasis added.)

The early March date is important for Boeing if it hopes to get the planes back in the air sometime that month or in April, which is the expectation of some airline customers. Also during the first part of March, the National Transportation Safety Board is slated to release further details of its probe of burning 787 batteries. With Boeing pushing the FAA for a speedy decision, some agency officials are leery of moving before the safety board’s findings can be fully assessed.

United Airlines canceled plans for 787 service to June 5, except for the hope it could begin such service May 12 between Denver and Tokyo. This timeline seems more in keeping with investigative and procedural realities than the March or April EIS dates Boeing has been telling customers and, according to the news articles, Congress. Update: ANA has cancelled 787 flights through May.

21 Comments on “Clues emerge on 787 service from FAA meeting

  1. Even when they do let them back in the air, it would be irresponsible to give it back the ETOPS 330 rating immediately. Presumably flights between Japan and Europe don’t need ETOPS, but flights into and out of the US would need them.

  2. “This timeline seems more in keeping with investigative and procedural realities than the March or April EIS dates Boeing has been telling customers and, according to the news articles, Congress.”

    I’m keep being amazed how docile most of the press and stakeholders have been adopting those surrealistic statements. After hitting the wall dozens of times with them during the last 5 yrs.

    Maybe that causes the problem (hitting the wall so often). However good thing is it gives Scott opportunities bringing in some sense 🙂

  3. I really cannot see how the FAA can approve this fix.

    First of all, how can it be a fix when neither Boeing or the NTSB/FAA know what caused the battery problems in the first place – unless they do know and haven’t made this information public – which is crazy in itself because surely they would want to try and get word out to rebuild confidence.

    Second of all, from what I’ve read – sources close to the fix say that it’s more of a containment solution in case batteries do catch fire.

    The battery is being redesigned to keep it cooler and to ensure any thermal runaway is contained. However, people have already expressed concerns over this – for example if the aircraft is on the ground at the time. The word ‘flamethrower’ has been used.

    Either Boeing are attempting to win over the FAA with a half-assed solution i.e. containment – or they are being disingenuous and are kind of admitting on the quiet that the 787 batteries have been overheating from day 1. This whole attempt at a fix doesn’t make any logical sense to me with the information that has been made available.

    I have grave concerns about what is going on at Boeing. At no point have they held their hands up and admitted there is a problem. Instead, they insist they have people working on a fix and are hopeful of getting the 787 back in the air shortly. Have management got their heads in the sand?

    I think Boeing, the NTSB and FAA have to answer some serious questions about how such a fix can be submitted when no problem is known for sure.

    I will say now, unless these questions are answered in a credible, factual way I will not fly the 787 and will urge my friends and family to avoid it as well. In fact, I keep posing this question to Boeing, the FAA and NTSB on Twitter and have had no replies as yet, but will continue to post the questions until credible answers are given.

    I think the general public should know what is really going on here, you can help by retweeting my question to them from my Twitter Feed (@matjamca).

      • So it isn’t a fix per se! Yet Boeing are claiming it to be the one and only fix to resolve the issues.

        Boeing are only providing a means to contain whatever hell the battery unleashes in similar situations.

        What if the airplane is 30,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, miles from anywhere when such a fire starts?

        The fire shouldn’t be starting in the first place, and while there is very little understanding as to what is causing the problems, the 787 shouldn’t be allowed to fly again.

        Would you really want to be Qantas (for example) flying the 787 between Sydney and Dallas and suddenly having a fire onboard hundreds of miles from anywhere?

        What if the battery isn’t the cause of the problem, but a weak point in the electrical system as a whole?

        The 787 has had quite a few electrical problems in different parts of the aircraft to date – what if the battery problems are a symptom of a greater, unidentified issue within the plane?

        Would you feel confident that the electrical system, on an all electrical airplane is as safe as it can reasonably be as you board for a flight where you’ll be miles from anywhere?

        Airbus recently said a fire can be completely out of control and to the point of jeopardising the aircraft in just 15 minutes. It just doesn’t bare thinking about.

  4. Good for the FAA. Sounds like they’re treating this like they should and aren’t playing the same PR BS game that Boeing is.

    Regarding the “full fix”:

    – Containment as an interim measure is understandable and reasonable IMO. They need to get flying again and if the new containment is demonstrably safe then that should be good enough… for now.

    – But I can not believe that Boeing is not working on preventing the battery incidents from occurring, just as I can not believe that the FAA would not mandate prevention of these incidents in the long term. Saying there is no long-term fix being worked on is pure BS and presumably ordered by the PR folks so as to make it seem like Boeing is on top of things (and at the same time, not trailing Airbus – note how the phrase used was actually the same “plan B” Airbus referred to…).

    And still, I believe too many people are convinced the problem lies with the battery technology, when a lot of evidence points at general electrical faults in my opinion. The more short circuits, over-draining, crossed wiring and other QA issues that keep cropping up, the more likely it seems that one of these things damaged the battery in the first place.

    Particularly the recent updates on wiring faults, uncommanded battery discharge and lack of individual cell monitoring/management(*) catch my eye.

    (*) To be honest, I’ve never understood how people thought the individual cells could be controlled when there are bloody great metal bars linking all of them in series!

    One good thing that could come out of the improved cell monitoring is that the *real* issues can be spotted and identified if aircraft experience irregularities again in service!!!

  5. Lets see- a 1/2 thick SS box according to some reports- with no doubt chrome duel exhaust stacks and maybe some elaborate flow thru reverse flow blocked cooling ?

    Plus a checklist before flight

    Plus a keep clear zone on the ground

    Plus plus plus

    So we give up whatever weight savings- of Li-carbon versus Li-X and still have a system that is NOT 1000 % save – not to sure how many 9’s are needed as in 99.99999999999 percent sure/probability

    And then there is ETOPS

    Washington state has legal pot smoking laws, maybe the smoke is leaking into the Board room ??

  6. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said that the NTSB had found evidence of failure of multiple safety systems designed to prevent these battery problems, and stated that fire must never happen on an airplane.

    Is this statement going to be changed now to read…

    “fire must never happen on an airplane*.”

    *Unless said fire is in a bloody big stainless steel box with exhaust pipes attached to send burning gas and shrapnel over board.

    Both the NTSB and FAA have made statements in the past that will make them look like they’re taking a relaxed stance on the situation if this fix is approved. I just can’t see how they can approve it and save face.

    • “fire must never happen on an airplane*.”

      Can this statement ever be true. AFAIK, fire on an airplane can happen for a variety of reasons (getting hit by lightning can be one) so, whoever claim this an absolute, probably no on this “earth”.

      • It is perhaps poor phrasing, and better stated as something that should never happen by design except under extraordinary and extremely rare circumstances. You’ll note that planes have lightening protection.

        There is nothing wrong with ensuring that if the “impossible” happens then there is an additional layer of protection. For example that is why aircraft toilet doors have ashtrays – even if someone ignores all the rules at least they will have somewhere to put cigarettes out. It is actually a federal regulation:

        The problem with the strong box is that it is reported as the only solution to problem. It is fine (and expected) as a last resort, but Boeing has presented nothing credible as to why that last resort will never be needed.

  7. Will the offered final fix get assay from the FAA only or will evaluation be passed through the NTSB ? ( Or is the NTSB limited to evaluating mishaps ? )
    That will probably make quite the difference.

    • Statistically about 15% of the NTSB recommendations are not followed by the FAA. But due the the high profile of this case, with the watchful eye of government and intense public scrutiny, the FAA will have no choice but to oblige.

      • NTSB will derive recomendations from the fail situations. check!
        Will NTSB assay Boeings fix ?

  8. Please, if you have not already done so, read the Special Certification Conditions which were set for use of Li-Ion batteries on the 787 Note that the dangers of using Li-Ion are clearly spelled out and prescient. Note too that pilots (ALPA) were only respondents to NPRM which preceded SCCs. ALPA was adamant that a battery fire was unacceptable; “The intent of our comments submitted to the Docket for question [Special Condition] Number 4 (see below) is to assure that the FAA includes language or makes it clear in the Special Conditions directing the OEM or a potential STC applicant that a fire from these devices, in any situation, is unacceptable. ALPA requests the FAA reiterate that preventing a fire and not reacting to one, if one occurs, is critical”. FAA reassured them; “The FAA shares the commenter’s concern over a fire erupting in flight. The regulations and the rigid requirements defined in these special conditions are intended to prevent lithium battery fires on board the aircraft”.
    Surely 787 engineers and their Chicago bosses realize that all SCCs for the use of Lithium Ion batteries are Federal Law. Including
    (1) Safe cell temperatures and pressures must be maintained during any foreseeable …. condition ….
    (2) Design of the lithium ion batteries must preclude the occurrence of self-sustaining, uncontrolled increases in temperature or pressure…..
    787 cannot return to service until it meets all SCCs. Safe containment of a fire cannot suffice, even as a temporary fix. SCCs are not just friendly agreements between consenting adults, they are Law. That’s why they are published in Federal Register and not by FAA. Sure the law can be changed but it’s a slow process which would need another NPRM. Any questionable “spin” would be challenged by ALPA, NTSB, EASA and probably Airbus.

    • All three mandated barriers where breached imu and some more.
      * cell thermal runaway 2/45,000 instead of 1/10e6
      * cascading failure.
      * enclsure breached
      * escape of flamable combustible materials
      * damage to the surroundings.

      But there is dissent from the fanboys.

  9. Uwe :
    Will the offered final fix get assay from the FAA only or will evaluation be passed through the NTSB ? ( Or is the NTSB limited to evaluating mishaps ? )
    That will probably make quite the difference.

    What about EASA and the Japanese authorities? They may beg to disagree with the FAA if they are not confident in the decision-making process. The FAA will first cover it’s rear by making sure that whatever they decide, EASA and the Japanese are going to implement as well. They will not come out and approve a fix only to be told by their fellow agencies that they got it wrong, and be left standing in the rain. This will take considerably longer than May.

    • EASA must have had some insight into FAA {–} Boeing interaction.
      I would be surprised if they were completely blindsided.
      But no comment was made.

      The Koito seat pileup was handled starkly different:
      EASA immediately prohibited use of Koito seats in newbuilds
      while FAA took a much more lenient industry protecting attitude.

      Poltiically the US has a long standing tradition of grudge
      and resultant retaliation and to affect this in a full spectrum way.

  10. Pingback: Weekly Roundup Friday 1 March 2013 » The Travel Insider

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