NTSB 787 preliminary report due this week

The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is due this week, probably Thursday, on its investigation of the Boeing 787 JAL battery fire.

A lot of information has already been made public by the NTSB in two press conferences. We suspect the root cause of the fire may not be revealed. Recall that the NTSB said evidence had been destroyed in the fire.

We asked Greg Feith, a former lead investigator for the NTSB, what he expects. His response:

“The NTSB will probably issue some Safety recommendations that will put a higher level of scrutiny on the FAA and the certification process, thus the FAA won’t take any chances in prematurely returning the aircraft to service. I think you will see that the FAA will extend their review of Boeing’s proposed fixes and ‘study’ their proposal rather than act on it – and I am willing to bet that it will be June before the 787 is airborne [in revenue service] again.”

Feith’s forecast of the re-entry into service is more optimistic than our readers, a plurality of whom see from August as the earliest EIS. Nearly 47% of the readers say they would wait a year or two before flying the 787 after the fix, but about the same number say they will fly the airplane right away, confident in the fix. (Results are as of 6:30am PST March 5 and may change after this writing as more readers vote.) The poll isn’t scientific but it is a snapshot of the challenges facing Boeing and the operators in restoring confidence in the 787 after re-EIS.

The NTSB preliminary report’s anticipated findings and potential recommendations don’t carry the force of law. The recommendations are just that, and the FAA may accept, reject or accept with modification any, some, all or none of the recommendations.

But given the likelihood that the NTSB findings will also comment on the certification process of the FAA-Boeing procedures (remember that the NTSB said it was looking at this), and that the FAA itself said it would examine its own role and the certification of the battery; and the entire production and design of the 787, we don’t see the FAA leaping in haste to approve the Boeing proposal for the battery fix. We see the FAA moving forward with deliberate speed (a nebulous term to be sure).

23 Comments on “NTSB 787 preliminary report due this week

  1. More damning statistics from your readers. Almost 50% wary of the 787 as a result of the shambles coming from Boeing. Very damaging data indeed.

    Greg Feith talks a lot of sense. The NTSB will make public their findings and this will (hopefully) put more pressure on the FAA and Boeing to be completely open and honest about their plans. The public can then make an informed decision about whether they should fly in the 787.

    Incidentally, Thomson Airways in the UK has today announced that the 787 will be replaced by the 767 throughout May/June because Boeing has yet to give them new delivery details. They seem a bit annoyed by this – with good reason I suspect.

  2. dont know how many the total survey was- but it tends to punch a big hole in BA credibility and the whole process.

    Wheres waldo … er McNearney ??

  3. Aircraft makers like Boeing or airbus have more technical and engineering know how than the FAA or EASA. That is why the certification is farm out to the designee. I know this for a fact because I witness daily. Boeing problem is they need management that have engineering at the head. The MBA mindset is destroying one of the best technology company around.

  4. So I’m less pessimistic than the majority despite having been accused of fanboyism… 😀

    • Same here on, both counts. I am vastly more confident flying with a reputable airline on a 787 with a dodgy battery than on some of the rust buckets I have entrusted my life to in the past.

    • matjamca :
      No matter how good the airline, if the equipment is dodgy it’s dodgy – no avoiding that.

      Considering how many airlines that have ordered the B-787, and how many have cancelled their orders since the two battery incidents, I would say they don’t share your opinion.

      Did airlines stop ordering the A-330 after two computer generated upsets at high altitude (both incidents were on QF airplanes) because of the pitiot tube problem, which later was a major factor in the AF crash?

      Did airlines cancel A-320 orders after a few early jets had FBW problems, including an AF crash?

      Did airlines cancel orders and begin dumping B-737s after two crashes (UA and US) due to rudder PCU problems?

      Even the DC-10 and Comet eventually overcame their problems and were sold for many more years.

      No, in all these events the airlines stuck with that airplane type, and ordered even more of them and allowed the OEMs to solve and correct the problems. So why are you of the opinion the B-787 is any different?

      Airlines are in business to move passengers and cargo from point A to point B via airplanes, and to make a profit doing that. They cannot do that with second rate equipment.

      • AF A330 and AF A320 were pilot errors but you’ve been told 100 times so I’ll leave it with that.

        Is the 787 any different then other problematic launches. Well, yes, the never ending string of problems has led to everyone wondering what the next surprize will be, not if there will be one.

        • keesje :
          AF A330 and AF A320 were pilot errors but you’ve been told 100 times so I’ll leave it with that.
          Is the 787 any different then other problematic launches. Well, yes, the never ending string of problems has led to everyone wondering what the next surprize will be, not if there will be one.

          Where did I say the pitot tubes CAUSED the crash of AF 447?

          I wrote:

          “which later was a major factor in the AF crash”

          The jury is still out on the AF A-320 crash as there are several unanswered questions, like where were the balck boxes that were missing for 10 days before the safety board got a chance to review them?

      • And yet, the 787 is the first aircraft to be grounded since the DC-10, another McDonnell Douglas aircraft.

        The 787 may have Boeing painted on the side, but we all know it might as well have McDonnell Douglas – seeing its those idiots running the show at Boeing these days.

        Boeing is not the company it once was and probably never will be again.

      • The A330 computer problems to my knowledge have been fixed with a software update – so no further issues reported (as yet).

        The A330 Pitot Probes have been replaced even though these didn’t cause the AF crash – the pilots did.

        The 737 rudder issues were eventually known and fixed – but did stump investigators for a while, however this event was very rare.

        The AF A320 was pilot error and such an incident has never happened again.

        The 787 is different….

        It has had several issues with its electrical system – even during testing. Boeing deny a link but how do they know when they don’t know what is causing the current issues?

        These issues have all happened in a short space of time.

        The 787 is being blasted in the media and various forums so more and more people are aware of the issues – AND ARE LOSING CONFIDENCE IN IT.

        Boeing still appears to be in denial about how serious the problem is.

        For example, Ray Conner recently said a fix could be up and running fast once approved by the FAA. But, he doesn’t even publicly acknowledge the fact the FAA may reject the fix. Even if the FAA accept the fix, everyone but Boeing says its going to be a long while before the fix can allow the plane back in service.

        Boeing is currently in cloud Cuckooland.

      • compared to previous “war of words” topics the
        “787 battery” discussions still are rather held back and factual.

        Quite telling in view of the factions effectively having changed places.

        On topic and a potential similarity:
        myopic focus on having changed pitot tubes or not
        from one type to a type with marginally different envelope actually was a massive distraction from the fundamental insight that the certification requirements now appearing
        to not meet the use case. Research is ongoing.

  5. http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us-meggittbre9240ge-20130305,0,1354354.story

    Rhys Jones Reuters

    5:30 a.m. CST, March 5, 2013

    LONDON (Reuters) – Aircraft parts supplier Meggitt said a product made by its U.S. unit had been cleared by regulators of causing a battery fire on Boeing’s troubled 787 Dreamliner jet.

    The British firm said on Tuesday the charger for batteries used on the 787, made by one of its U.S. subsidiaries, Securaplane Technologies, had passed tests conducted by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

    One battery caught fire onboard a Japan Airlines Co 787 in Boston while another forced an All Nippon Airways Co plane to make an emergency landing in western Japan in January, prompting regulators in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere to ground all 50 Dreamliners in operation.

    “Our products have been through a lot of tests, including the two damaged units from the fires, and they both re-passed all the required tests. The unit is doing what it is supposed to do,” Meggitt’s finance director Stephen Young, who will take over as the group’s chief executive this summer, told Reuters.

    “Boeing are still building up the 787 and at the moment they are still taking products for it but I guess when the car park is full that may not continue to be the case.”

    No one at Boeing’s London office was immediately available to comment.

    Earlier on Tuesday, Meggitt, which also supplies flight displays and wheels to planemakers, said 2012 pretax profit rose 12 percent to 362.8 million pounds ($547 million), a slowdown on the 26 percent profit growth it delivered in 2011, but ahead of an average forecast of 344.60 million pounds, according to a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll of 13 analysts.

    Meggitt’s revenues rose 10 percent to 1.60 billion pounds, boosted by 7 percent growth at its civil aerospace unit, which was helped by strong demand for Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737MAX planes, offsetting slower than expected aftermarket sales, which include parts and maintenance.

    Meggitt sees mid-single digit organic growth in 2013, underpinned by the ramp-up of several civil aerospace programs.

    Global airlines will buy $3.5 trillion of aircraft over the next 20 years to meet demand for travel to and from emerging markets and renew ageing fleets with more fuel-efficient planes, according to the world’s big two planemakers, helping suppliers such as Meggitt.

    Military sales rose 7 percent but Meggitt said it expected 2013 sales from the unit to be flat at best in 2013, primarily due to further cuts in U.S. defense spending.

    “While we anticipate the strength in military to wane over the next few years as a result of sequestration, we expect the civil aftermarket to strengthen again from 2013,” said Edison analyst Roger Johnston, referring to U.S. budget caps.

    Shares in Meggitt, which have risen a fifth so far this year, were up 4.5 percent at 479.8 pence by 1010 GMT, valuing the group at around 3.75 billion pounds.

    The company said revenues at its smaller energy unit rose 45 percent, boosted by a large order from Petrobras to equip its new fleet of vessels.

    Meggitt, which increased its final dividend by 12 percent to 11.80 pence, said order intake during the year was 1.64 billion pounds, giving a group book-to-bill rate of greater than one, underpinning its confidence in future revenue growth.

  6. Don Shuper :
    Mike does lay out a detailed version of what the batteries actually do or are supposed to do.

    Mike Sinnett:

    – “Our batteries contain a fair amount of energy, but more importantly they have to be able to release that energy at a very high rate to do the jobs that we task them doing.”

    – “There is a general impression that our batteries do more than they really do.”

    – “It is true that it’s lower weight [Li-ion], but that really wasn’t the driving factor in our design. The driving factor in our design was really the ability of the battery to discharge a large amount of energy in a very short period of time. And this was required for two different functions at an airplane level.”

    – “One was for starting the auxiliary power unit and the other was for being able to apply braking to the airplane in the event that all other power sources in the airplane were lost.”

    Like I have said before, I believe the APU requires a more powerful battery than any other aircraft because it has two huge starter generators to crank. The A350 APU is larger than the 787’s because it has a load compressor and the 787 does not. But it also has smaller starter generators. That means the A350 APU should still need a fairly potent battery, if somewhat smaller than the 787’s. But if Airbus can get away with Ni-Cd, so should Boeing.

    Like I have said before, the CSeries also has an electric braking system similar to the one on the 787. But the CSeries does not need to have Li-ion batteries, and indeed it uses Ni-Cd. Why would it be different for the Dreamliner?


    I cannot believe Mike Sinnett when he says that “It is true that it’s lower weight, but that really wasn’t the driving factor in our design”. That is utter non sense.

    Nor can I understand when he says about the 787 batteries that “they have to be able to release that energy at a very high rate to do the jobs that we task them doing”. It will require a more articulate reasoning, with substantiated arguments, to convince me.

    The battery issue has to be discussed within the context of the entire aircraft electrical system and its architecture. To not do so is a diversion.


  7. “.. a plurality of whom see from August .. ”

    Highest adjusted per month voting densitiy is for June.
    ( 35% spread across 5 month is ~7%/month )

      • Never mind – I think that might be what you were saying.

      • Yes 😉
        comparing variable width slots is problematic. they may even spin a bit :-()

  8. I think the “poll” here is a bit more skewed to the negative, due to two significant factors, many here are somehow involved int the aerospace industry and hence, have a greater interest in the topic at hand, and secondly, there are many with a predisposition towards one or the other of the two major airliner OEMs.

    I would say that at least 90% of the general public, if they have even heard of this issue, would take it for granted, i.e. accept, all is well again if they were to happen to board a 787 that is back in service.

    • Shouldn’t the fanfactions annihilate each other ( only statistically speaking, for sure ;-.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *