FAA orders review of the Boeings 787 Dreamliner electrical systems
The New York Times | January 12,2013
An employee of Japan’s All Nippon Airways runs in front of an image of the Boeing 787 in the lobby of Tokyo’s Haneda international airport in Tokyo.
Federal authorities Friday ordered a review of electrical systems in Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner following a spate of incidents, including a battery fire earlier this week in Boston, 15 months after the technologically advanced aircraft came into service.
In an unusual high-priority review, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would focus on how the 787 was designed, manufactured and assembled and would examine critical electrical systems as well as other quality-control issues.
“We are concerned about recent events involving the Boeing 787,” Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said during a press conference in Washington. “We will look for the root causes of the recent events and do everything we can to ensure these events don’t happen again.”
LaHood said the FAA had already spent 200,000 hours to certify the plane before it went into service.
The administrator of the FAA, Michael P. Huerta, said the review would focus on the electrical systems of the airplane, including the batteries and power distribution systems, and how they interact with each other.
Raymond L. Conner, the head of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, repeated at the news conference that Boeing had complete confidence in the 787, the first new airplane to be certified in the United States in more than 15 years.
“Every new commercial airplane has issues when it enters service,” Conner said.
The review, however, will not require the grounding of the 787 fleet, officials said. Boeing has delivered 50 of the airplanes since the first commercial flight in November 2011 and has received orders for more than 800. Eight airlines now fly the 787 — All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines in Japan, Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Chile’s LAN Airlines, Poland’s LOT, Qatar Airways and United Airlines.
It is uncommon for the FAA to open a review of an airplane it has already certified, but it points to increased concern by regulators. A Boeing spokesman, Marc Birtel, declined to comment on any review Thursday evening.
But he said Boeing was working actively with the FAA to understand and address “introductory issues” that might come up with the new aircraft.
“While we take each issue seriously, nothing we’ve seen in service causes us to doubt the capabilities of the airplane,” he said.
The review comes amid an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into why a battery pack caught fire in a parked 787 at Logan International Airport in Boston on Monday. The fire occurred in a Japan Airlines plane from Tokyo after the passengers and crew had left the plane.
The battery, which powers the auxiliary power unit used when the plane is on the ground, sustained “severe fire damage,” according to the safety board.
But with the current focus on the 787s’ problems, every incident, however small, is getting extra attention. Earlier Friday, All Nippon Airlines of Japan reported cracks in the cockpit window of a 787 Dreamliner heading from Tokyo to Matsuyama, the third time that cracks had appeared in the windshield of one of the 17 787s operated by the airline.
The cracks were on the outermost of five layers that compose the cockpit windshield and did not endanger the aircraft, said Megumi Tezuka, a company spokeswoman.
Moreover, she said, cracks of this kind are not unique to the 787 Dreamliner; cracks have appeared in other aircraft types operated by All Nippon from time to time.
“We do not see this as a sign of a fundamental problem” with the aircraft, Tezuka said.
A bigger concern to investigators would be problems in the plane’s electric systems. The 787, which make extensive use of lightweight carbon composites, relies more on electric systems than previous generations of airplanes. Electrical systems, not mechanical ones, operate hydraulic pumps, de-ice the wings, pressurize the cabin and handle other tasks. The plane also has electric brakes instead of hydraulic ones.
This electric architecture helps cut energy consumption and makes the aircraft more efficient to operate.