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).