If there was still anyone out there thinking that the Boeing 787 could soon be flying again, the latest update from the NTSB has all but squashed such a notion.
My colleague, Aaron Karp, attended the briefing by NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman — here’s his report on atwonline.com — and her words were, “we have a long road ahead of us.”
NTSB is heading up the investigation into the JAL 787 fire and also helping Japanese safety authorities with their investigation of the ANA 787 incident that forced an emergency landing. The focus point for both investigations remains the 787’s lithium ion batteries.
Most critically, Hersman pointed out the JAL 787 fire in Boston and the Jan. 16 ANA battery event occurred with the 787 fleet in service for fewer than 100,000 flight hours. Boeing tests, she said, determined the likelihood of a “smoke emission event” resulting from a battery failure was “once in every 10 million flight hours.”
“Yet there have now been two battery events resulting in smoke less than two weeks apart in two aircraft,” she said. “So we know that some of the assumptions that were made [about] not having a smoke event, let alone a fire event, have not been seen in fleet performance.”
And she also noted that FAA employed nine “special conditions” to certify the use of lithium ion batteries on the 787 because these batteries were “novel” in a commercial aircraft. This prompted her statement that assumptions made by Boeing and FAA to justify certifying 787 batteries “must be reconsidered.”
To me, that indicates not only a continued and lengthy grounding for the Dreamliner, but perhaps a potential recertification. And that would be a nightmare — and extremely expensive – scenario on top of what is already a seriously bad situation for a new-entry aircraft.
A quick update just in – Boeing has issued a statement saying that it has FAA approval to begin limited 787 flight test activities with ZA005, the fifth flight test aircraft.
Here’s what Boeing says:
“This flight test activity will allow Boeing to conduct testing of the in-flight performance of the airplane’s batteries, which will provide data to support the continuing investigations into the cause of the recent 787 battery incidents.
Flight test activities are different from commercial flight operations and, because of the test environment, special considerations are always in place when the FAA permits such operations. With that said, while our work to determine the cause of the recent battery incidents continues in coordination with appropriate regulatory authorities and investigation agencies, we are confident that 787 is safe to operate for this flight test activity. As additional precautions, we have implemented additional operating practices for test flights, including a one-time preflight inspection of the batteries, monitoring of specific battery related status messages, and a recurring battery inspection.”
So a 787 will take to the skies once more…but for airlines and passengers, the wait continues.