Latest on Ethiopian 787

The media frenzy over the cause of the fire of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 last Friday seems to be slowing.

The New York Times has this report from late last night that says Japan Air Lines and ANA conducted checks on their Boeing 787 fleet and found everything OK.

The NYT also has some new detail about what’s near the burned out area of the 787 and what’s not, and what else investigators are checking (some of which was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal).

Bloomberg has this report saying it doesn’t appear grounding the airplane is in the cards–and we believe it should not be. The first two battery incidents justified grounding but we don’t have the same concerns with this fire as we did with the JAL fire and the ANA near-fire.

Nothing we’ve yet read nor heard suggests anything systemic about the airplane that contributed to the fire. We still have to wait and see what investigators come up with.

Unlike the Asiana Airlines crash the previous week, there are no flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders or witnesses to provide a near-instant conclusion. This investigation is a detective story that will take some time to reach answers.

As we know from the JAL fire, evidence is often destroyed in a fire and news reports indicate the Electronic Locator Transmitter was pretty well destroyed. The underlying question is whether the ELT was the origin of the fire or merely a victim itself that propagated the fire with its lithium battery. What other factors contributor to the fire?

It’s time to move on and let investigators do their work.

Update: via Twitter: 9m

WSJ BREAKING: AAIB to issue interim 787 report in dys. Unclear if ELT started fire. May suggest ELT removal from 787s during probe –Source

27 Comments on “Latest on Ethiopian 787

  1. “This investigation is a detective story that will take some time to reach answers.”

    Maybe they should leave it with Scotland Yard. 😉

  2. “Unlike the Asiana Airlines crash the previous week, there are no flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders or witnesses to provide a near-instant conclusion.”

    Yes, but what about the aircraft health monitoring system?

    The New York Times:

    – Industry officials said there were not many other components near the transmitter, which is in the ceiling in front of the plane’s tail. They said investigators were also checking electrical wiring and distribution boxes as well as parts of the oxygen and air-conditioning systems for any clues to how the fire started or spread.

    So we have a few bones to chew on:

    1- ELT
    2- electrical wiring and distribution boxes
    3- oxygen system
    4- air-conditioning system

  3. The odds are pretty high that the investigators will not reach a definite conclusion.

  4. Its unclear what caused this fire. (Was it a confirmed fire?). That’s not good news IMO.

    Looking back a few months, in December 2012, Boeing CEO James McNerney told media outlets that the 787 problems were no greater than those experienced by the company with the introduction of other new models, such as the Boeing 777.

    After the first JAL battery fire the cause was unclear. No one was hurt and the fleet wasn’t grounded while authorities looked into the cause. We waited for an official report.

    A press conference was given where Boeing and DoT expressed their confidence in the 787. The head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, said that so far nothing found “suggests the 787 is not safe”

    A few days later the Japanese authorities grounded their 787s after a second fire of a different 787 battery.

    United continued flying waiting for prove but the FAA grounded the US fleet shortly after.

    I think waiting for official results from research by authorities is necessary. What else can you base a damaging operational interruption on?

    On the other side, I usually don’t wait for proof or a report when a snowball is flying in my direction. I bend down. Boeing didn’t on the batteries. Are there lessons learned?

  5. Back in 1989 we had a fire that gutted a New Hampshire Air National Guard KC-135E at Pease AFB, NH (PSM). The USAF accident investigation board took several months to come up with a cause. That airplane was being upgraded with an additional gaseous oxygen system. There was some shipping grease on some of the fittings for the new O2 bottles that was not noticed, nor was anything in the paperwork to indicate these fittings were protected with grease. Well, as the new system was being filled with gaseous O2 for the first time the fire started, and continued because it was feed by O2.
    The NYT indicated the cabin O2 system had been worked on by ET personal. Is there a connection between this B-787-8 and that KC-135E (other than both were built by Boeing)? I don’t know, but everything is still a possibility right now.

    • The NYT mentioned that the ground crew noticed sparks in the air conditioning system, but they said nothing of that nature about the O2.

  6. They never determined the causes of the JAL or ANA fires.

    They also never really determined the cause of the Laredo fire (said it was Foreign Object Debris, but of course never really recovered the offending item).

    They will never determine the cause because they don’t understand their own design.

    Something like 66 planes have been delivered, and something like 82 have flown. Four in-fuselage fires so far – all electrical. The entire fleet has probably flown less than 200 hours.

    In my opinion the real cause is a generally faulty electrical system. In this case it’s likely a perfectly to-spec bundle of wires got hot, the insulation weakened, and there was an arc. That area will all be burned out now, so there will be no evidence of the real cause.

    Boeing plans to deliver at least another 40 planes this year, bringing the total in service to >100. I’d say there NOT being another fire in the next few months are very small. We can only hope it will be on the ground again, like JAL and ETH (and unlike Laredo and JAL).

  7. I meant “the entire fleet has probably flown less than 200,000 hours”.

  8. In the Wall Street Journal article posted by bks above it says that “some FAA officials are quietly arguing inside the agency that the AAIB lacks jurisdiction to conduct the investigation under rules of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.”

    – Air-accident investigations are usually led by the country where they occur. But according to people familiar with the FAA officials’ reading of ICAO rules, this only holds for aircraft in flight or that have “intention of flight.” FAA officials, according to these people, believe that a parked plane that was certified by the FAA should be investigated by the FAA.

    I am sure the FAA does not question the competence of the AAIB. This sudden susceptibility must be driven by other considerations.

  9. The FAA certified the 787 before the string of incidents. Maybe other authorities having a look at the 787 electrical system will be refreshing.

  10. The same Wall Street Article reports that “amid uncertainty about the cause of the fire, the AAIB is preparing to ask the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency to assess the necessity of the devices on 787s, according to a person familiar with the matter. The AAIB may suggest temporarily removing ELTs from Dreamliners as a precautionary measure while the investigation continues, this person said.”

    Personally I would not let this aircraft fly without an ELT until it has a well proven safety record while in service.

  11. Boeing has to identify the root cause ( and a fix ) ,otherwise , there is a disaster waiting to happen – any Murphy’s law could well apply with serious consequences for the program. Boeing and FAA have to step in and get it right , what ever it takes. Boeing’s brand is at stake here.

  12. Whatever the conclusion of the current investigation, I guess that in Toulouse they’re more and more happy with their choice of keeping the A380 architecture. Uncertainty and doubts are not good for business.
    By the way, the EADS board is going to meet late this month and could decide to rename EADS…. Airbus.

      • I agree but I hope they will keep the Eurocopter and Astrium brands.
        EADS has been chosen because it was considered neutral versus Airbus which was too “french” (mostly because it was an idea of Noel Forgeard).
        The main goal of Tom Enders is efficiency and profitabilty. Just after the EADS/BAe Systems merger failure, he took advantage of the new situation to get rid of political intrusion.
        He has now free hands and fortunately Fabrice Bregier gets along very well with him.
        Airbus has got a dream team.

        • Enders appears to me like a down-to-earth no-nonsense kind of individual.

  13. This is a serious incident with considerable damage to the airframe. If investigators cannot determine what caused it, IT HAS TO BE ASSUMED that a similar “incident” is just as possible in-flight as on ground. Especially, if the fire originated in a non-acessibel area, meaning no human caused it by some kind of action or negligence.

  14. From the Boeing 787 Maintenance Manual:

    ELT has a connection to the antenna, and an earthing line. As well as this there are four wires leaving the unit. 3 of the them go through two connectors and P409 and end up at the remote test panel in the flight deck. One goes to P105 and then to a RDC where the signal goes off to ECAM to show ELT ON.

    Credit: Tristarsteve on (Reply 117)

  15. Rumour:

    The aircraft was declared a write-off as of yesterday.

    • While we have to wait for confirmation, this would be understandable IMO.

      A part out creates valuable stock, this airframe was probably one of the heavy’s, ferrying home seemed complicated and a 9-12 months repair by a Boeing AOG team in London an un-attractive proposition.

      It would confirm the replacement of baked together (light, less rivets!) damaged frames, stringers over multiple sections is the drama many imagined. Drilling holes & adding plates just isn’t the same as metal because of the material specifics of CFRP.

  16. Apart from the 3000 ELBs of this model there are 10s or 100s of thousands of locater beacons in use, not just on aircraft but ships as well. The power requirement is small, which might explain why I have NEVER heard of one starting a fire, although it must have happened some time. What are the odds that this is not a 787 specific problem? Pretty low, I think, I wish it wasn’t so but it is hard not to think that this must be a 787 problem.

  17. Isn’t it the insurance adjusters who determine if an airframe will be written off or not? Sort like they do with automobiles?

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