“There have now been two battery events resulting in smoke less than two weeks apart on two different aircraft,” Hersman said. “This investigation has demonstrated that a short circuit in a single cell can propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire. The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered.”
All 787s have been grounded since Jan. 16. With no end in sight, the halt has become a nightmare for Boeing, which has about 800 orders for the craft from airlines around the world. The company’s customers were already frustrated that the 787 was more than three years late when the first one was delivered toward the end of 2011.
Boeing loses money on each 787 it delivers, and the cash burn grows with each missed delivery, analysts have said.
Investigators are still trying to determine why the first battery cell short-circuited, but the board’s findings appear to raise doubts about the thoroughness of FAA’s safety certification of the 787’s batteries and whether Boeing can remedy the problems with the addition of a few quick safeguards. The FAA typically delegates testing of new aircraft designs to the manufacturer, while overseeing that the tests meet the agency’s requirements. The agency also relies to some degree on the expertise of the manufacturer’s engineers, especially in the case of a cutting-edge plane like the 787.
Following the fire at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta ordered a review of the 787’s design, certification, manufacture and assembly. That review is still under way.
“We must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward,” LaHood and Huerta said in a joint statement. “The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service.”
But John Goglia, a former NTSB board member and aviation safety expert, said NTSB’s findings mean the government will likely require Boeing to re-certify the batteries.
“Certifications aren’t exactly painless and quick,” he said. “It could be a big, drawn-out thing.”
The significance of the NTSB’s findings “is if this can happen – and the safety analysis assumed that it would not happen – then the safety analysis is no longer valid,” said Jon Hansman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor and a member of the FAA’s Research and Development Advisory Committee.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>
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