FAA Announces Comprehensive Dreamliner Review

By Paul Riegler on 11 January 2013
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Boeing Dreamliner ZA003 on tour at DFW

Boeing Dreamliner ZA003 on tour at DFW

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced a new and separate probe into the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, focusing on safety and reliability issues.  The review, which will focus on the plane’s electrical system and also examine the aircraft’s design and manufacturing processes, is an unusual move for an aircraft that is already in revenue service.

The review was announced Friday morning at a press conference in Washington, D.C. by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta, and Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The Dreamliner is the only aircraft in decades that will be subject to a review of this magnitude after having been approved to carry passengers.  Chicago-based Boeing reportedly tried to get the FAA to delay the probe but the FAA was unswayed due to the recent spate of electrical and other problems with the aircraft.

The early morning press conference was somewhat unusual because of the presence of Mr Conner on the podium.  Safety regulators rarely if ever conduct joint announcements of this type of investigation with the target of the probe, let alone provide a platform to play down the significance of the announcement and answer questions from reporters.

The review is in addition to the investigation currently underway by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board concerning the JAL electrical fire earlier this week.  The NTSB has reported that the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit battery had suffered “severe fire damage.” In addition, last month, the FAA ordered mandatory inspections of 787 aircraft after concerns were voiced about fuel line leaks and improperly assembled engine attachments.

Two more 787 incidents were reported on Friday.  An ANA aircraft suffered a cracked windshield during a flight and another aircraft reported an engine oil leak after landing at an airport in Japan.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a fuselage and wings made from composite material, not aluminum, and it is designed to use five times more electricity than other similarly-sized aircraft in order to lower fuel usage.  Additionally, since some of the technologies used in the Dreamliner are new and not covered by existing FAA regulations, the plane received its certification with numerous “special conditions.”

Boeing uses an unusually high number of subcontractors to build the 787, a move that caused significant delays at the start of the manufacturing process. The FAA probe will also examine how well the company’s subcontractors are integrated into the overall manufacturing process.

The review will be overseen by the FAA’s new-plane certification and transport directorate offices.  It will be conducted by a team of FAA and Boeing inspectors and engineers.

“This plane is different than any other plane that has ever been manufactured,” said LaHood, the Transportation Secretary.

“We are confident about the safety of this aircraft,” said Huerta, the FAA Administrator, “but we are concerned about the incidents.”

Eight airlines, including launch customer ANA as well as Japan Airlines, United Airlines, and LOT Polish Airways, currently have the Dreamliner in service.  Thus far, no one has been injured as a result of any of the Dreamliner incidents reported.

“I am 100% convinced that the airplane is safe to fly,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett during a Wednesday conference call.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)




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