Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FAA expected to respond to Boeing 787 proposal next week. Longer grounding expected.

Today Michael Huerta, the FAA chief, testified before a House subcommittee on aviation that he expects that his staff will complete their review of Boeing's return to flight proposal next week but does caution that "Once we approve the plan, then we have to go through the process of actually implementing the plan, which will involve a great deal of testing, a great deal of further analysis and re-engineering before these planes are back in the air".

He characterized Boeing's plan as comprehensive as it deals with the issues on a cell level, battery level and airplane level, referring the to the multi layers of protection that Boeing had presented last week to the FAA.  Still GS Yuasa has indicated that Boeing should add in protection against external current surges. Obviously GS Yuasa feel that the issues lay not with their battery but from other external factors.  This may complicate Boeing's ability to return the 787 to revenue flight in a timely manner according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

This indicates that the 787 for customers will be on the ground for much longer than Boeing anticipates.  I am willing to venture that the grounding will last through May with final re-certification of the lithium ion batteries coming around that time and resumption of revenue flight in June. Already many current customers (8 thus far) are planning for resumption of service around the summer time with LOT Polish Airlines planning for a resumption in the fall time though this is probably very extreme.  The Seattle Times has an excellent article about today's testimony and the current situation with regards to the 787.

So what does this mean for the timing of 787 delivery resumption? Boeing will have 23 complete 787s by Feb. 28. If I assume that customer flights resume by the end May which would mean that customer deliveries won't resume until the end of the second quarter as Boeing would need a month of pre-delivery ground and flight tests before they can deliver new 787s.

This means another 4 months of 787s coming off the final assembly lines in Everett and Charleston at a rate of 5/month.  This means Boeing would add another 20 787s that will be stored around the two final assembly locations.  Additionally, I believe that Boeing will also have finished 2 787s that are currently undergoing change incorporation at the Everett Modification Center (EMC).  This means that Boeing will have a backlog of about 45 787s waiting to be delivered.  The 45 would be split 34 Dreamliners at Everett and 11 at Charleston.  This number will create a storage challenge for Boeing at both locations.  Some of these airplanes have had flight tests (5 airplanes) but would need further tests in light of the enhanced battery protection measures that Boeing will install.  If Boeing is to attempt to deliver more than 60 787s, they would have to deliver 10/month for the second half of the year. 

Also what is unclear is how this will affect Boeing's plan to test and certify the 787-9 the first of which should be ready for flight by late August to early September.  Additionally, it is unknown how all this affect Boeing's efforts to certify the 787 for ETOPS 330 though I would expect that the FAA will have additional conditions that Boeing will have to meet in order to allow the 330 minute limit for the 787s. Air New Zealand, the first 787-9 customer needs to have the aircraft certified for ETOPS 330 by the time it takes delivery.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Boeing presents battery solution to FAA, FAA says no flights until they are satisfied

Boeing 787 program managers lead by BCA Chief met with FAA leaders lead by FAA Chief Mike Huerta to listen to Boeing's plan to fix the battery issues in order to return the 787 to flight status.

News reports say that this is not an interim fix but a permanent fix to mitigate problems that may arise if there was another short circuit and thermal runaway in the cells of the battery.

Boeing proposed changes includes (according to media reports):

1) A fire proof case to house the the eight cells of the battery to contain any smoke and fire from the rest of the electrical and electronics in the two E/E Bays

2) Venting of any smoke and gases out of the aircraft through pipes installed in the new case.  This is to ensure that smoke does not get into the cockpit or the cabin

3) Wider spacing between the the eight individual cells and ceramic partitions between the cells

4) Enhanced and improve monitoring of the cells with information presented to the pilots throughout all phases of flight on each of the battery cells.

5) New battery monitoring procedure to be performed by the pilots before, during and after each flight.

Boeing says that they have had made good progress on addressing the battery issues and that today's meeting was "productive" (whatever that means). but the blunt statement by the FAA tells it all:

Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta and other FAA officials met with senior executives from The Boeing Company today to discuss the status of ongoing work to address 787 battery issues. The FAA is reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely. The safety of the flying public is our top priority and we won't allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we're confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks.
The FAA is certainly not going to give Boeing a pass on this and given that the NTSB still has not determined the root cause of the short circuiting, the FAA is going to look over their proposal and more than likely have additional conditions and tests that Boeing will have to carry out. 

A good thing is that Boeing has been in constant contact with the FAA about the investigation and their plans but it is still the FAA's decision whether to accept Boeing's plan and allow them to test and certify the fixes.

According to the reports that have been circulating for the past couple of days, Boeing is planning to get the testing, certification and fixes implemented so that the world wide fleet of 787s can resume flying by around late March to April.

So while the FAA is drawing a hardline (as evidenced by their statement today) they will undoubtedly take into account a couple of things:

1) Root cause of the short circuiting has not been determined and may not ever be known
2) The batteries, until January, did not exhibit any short circuiting and thermal runaway issues.
3) There is a substantial economic loss both a t the carriers that have the aircraft and at Boeing

Given the above, the FAA will probably move to allow Boeing to test and certify the fixes but I wouldn't be surprised if Boeing and GS Yuasa, the maker of the lithium ion battery look to make changes to the design to enhance the safe operation of the cells.

What Boeing is proposing are preventative measures to stop a battery issue from getting out of control.  Without a root cause they cannot address the design of the battery that would prevent a recurrence of the short circuiting and thermal runaway.  This is probably the best option that Boeing currently has and is probably also the most aggressive option.

I do believe that Boeing will be able to return the aircraft to revenue flights but it will not be until late April to mid May before that happens. In the meantime, Everett will add on at least 10 more 787s while Charleston will add 2 to 3 787s to those waiting to be delivered.  I think the FAA will come back with a response to Boeing's proposal fairly quickly (within the next one week).

In some good news, the JTSB (Japanese Transport Safety Board) has discovered what caused the the fuel spillage from a JAL 787 on January 9th at Logan International.  It was small piece of FOD (foreign object debris) that prevented the closure of a valve.  During a test on the same aircraft later in January, there was another fuel leak.  The second one was attributable to a micro switch that was painted in a protective coating.  The painting had left behind a small piece of hair from the brush causing the the switch to lock.  Boeing is going to make sure that the micro switches are not painted in the protective coating again.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Updated 787 firing order to L/N 160

I have updated my 787 tracking spreadsheet to reflect the firing order from L/N 131 to L/N 160.

A couple of interesting things stand out. All three flight test 787-9s will be assembled on the Everett surge line in 40-24 and during the final assembly of these 3 test flight aircraft, no other 787s for customers will be assembled.  This is not too surprising as Boeing needs to retire risk associated with assembling the newest version of the 787 and doesn't want to run the chance of unforeseen issues with assembly of the 787-9 to hold up assembling the 787-8 for customers.

Another interesting item is the increasing number of airframes being built at Boeing Charleston. The current monthly assembly rate is 1/month but with this firing order Boeing is looking to go to 1.5/month.

Back to the 787-9, the list also shows ZB197 (LN 146) a 787-9 going to ANA.  Why Boeing is building this aircraft for ANA before Air New Zealand, which is to take the first 787-9, is a mystery.

There are some notable airlines whose first 787s are on this list including: Air Canada (ZA610, LN 160), Kenya Airways (ZA655, LN 157) and Norwegian Air Shuttle will be getting its first non-leased 787 (ZA650, LN 136).

There are a couple of airplanes being leased from ILFC but I don't have the customers yet.  The Boeing customer codes is ABD (Air Berlin perhaps) and KBL (absolutely no idea who this is).

There is also one 787 whose identity is completely unknown and I'm working to try and figure out who the customer is for ZA778 (LN 149).

In this batch of 30 aircraft here is the breakdown:

5 for ANA
1 for Air Canada
1 for Air India
1 for China Southern Airlines
2 for Hainan Airlines
4 for ILFC (various customers)
2 for JAL
1 for Kenya Airways
1 for Norwegian Air Shuttle
3 for Qatar Airways
2 for QANTAS (Jet Star)
1 for Royal Brunei Airlines
1 for Thomson
2 for Boeing (2 787-9 for flight test)
2 for United Airlines
1 unidentified

All this would be meaningless if there isn't any progress on the 787 lithium ion battery issue.  In an article in the Seattle Times, reporter Dominic Gates reported that Boeing is prepared to propose a short term interim fix to the FAA for the battery which encompasses a titanium or steel enclosure for the battery with high pressure venting for gas and electrolytes which would be released in the case of the thermal runaway.  Also included is enhanced monitoring. 

All this would allow (if the FAA approved) for Boeing and its partners to completely redesign and re-certify a new lithium ion battery for use on the 787.  However, it seems that the FAA is going to prolong this and will grill Boeing very hard on this interim measure.  Boeing is aiming to get the 787s flying again by end of May as they will need time to refine the short term fix, test it and certify it for airline use.  The FAA will have a lot to say about what kind of test results they want to see from Boeing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

ZA005 start lithium ion test flights but resumption of 787 revenue flights still a big question mark

As Boeing's GEnx powered 787 initiated test flights to gather data on the operating environment of the aircraft's lithium ion batteries many questions still are circulating not the least which is when will the FAA allow the 787s to resume revenue flights by the world's airlines.

Here's a rundown of the latest news:

Lithium Ion Battery Investigation

The NTSB, in preliminary report, has narrowed down the origin of the fire to cell 6 (of 8) in the battery in the aft E/E bay of ZA183 (LN 84, JA829J).  The thermal runaway ("an uncontrolled chemical reaction at high temperatures") was caused by several short circuits in cell 6 which propagated to the adjacent cells (primarily cells 5, 7, and 8).  Cells 1 through 4 were also damaged but as you can see from the picture above, they weren't damaged as badly as the cells.  The root cause of the short circuiting has yet to be determined but the NTSB is looking at various factors in the search of the root cause.  These factors include design, certification and manufacturing processes of the lithium ion battery. They did rule out external short circuiting as well as any external damage that caused the cell to short circuit.  Investigators will look at battery charging as well as as any other external factors that may have had affected the cell thus the NTSB has a long way to go.

Already though the NTSB is looking at the certification of the battery by the FAA charging that this battery should not have been certified under the special conditions that were set forth.  Additionally, Boeing had predicted, based on their testing, that a smoke event from the lithium ion batteries would occur once in 10,000,000 flight hours.  However, 2 smoke events have occurred in less than 100,000 flight hours across the worldwide 787 fleet.  Thus NTSB Chairperson said that "the failure rate was higher than predicted as part of the certification process and the possibility that a short circuit in a single cell could propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire must be reconsidered."  Additionally, the NTSB said "During the 787 certification process, Boeing studied possible failures that could occur within the battery. Those assessments included the likelihood of particular types of failures occurring, as well as the effects they could have on the battery. In tests to validate these assessments, Boeing found no evidence of cell-to-cell propagation or fire, both of which occurred in the JAL event."

In other words, the certification process by the FAA and Boeing for the lithium ion batteries is severely flawed and if these batteries are to be used on the 787 then the FAA and Boeing needs to reconsider how these batteries are to be tested along with containment and monitoring along different failure modes because the fire did show cell to cell propagation whereas Boeing testing (and FAA sign off) did not show that it would occur. 

The NTSB will release an interim report in about 4 weeks but it is not known if they would have found the root cause of the battery incident in Boston. Lastly, it'll be interesting to note if the JTSB would find a similar short circuiting cell from the ANA (ZA102, LN 9, JA804A) battery.  Thus far both batteries have shown signs of thermal runaway and short circuiting though the ANA battery did not catch fire.  Still there was significant high temperature damage to that battery.

Here is the press release from the NTSB on Thursday:

NTSB identifies origin of JAL Boeing 787 battery fire; design, certification and manufacturing processes come under scrutiny

February 7, 2013

WASHINGTON - At a news conference today, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman identified the origin of the Jan. 7 battery fire that occurred on a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston Logan Airport, and said that a focus of the investigation will be on the design and certification requirements of the battery system.

"U.S. airlines carry about two million people through the skies safely every day, which has been achieved in large part through design redundancy and layers of defense," said Hersman. "Our task now is to see if enough - and appropriate - layers of defense and adequate checks were built into the design, certification and manufacturing of this battery."

After an exhaustive examination of the JAL lithium-ion battery, which was comprised of eight individual cells, investigators determined that the majority of evidence from the flight data recorder and both thermal and mechanical damage pointed to an initiating event in a single cell. That cell showed multiple signs of short circuiting, leading to a thermal runaway condition, which then cascaded to other cells. Charred battery components indicated that the temperature inside the battery case exceeded 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

As investigators work to find the cause of the initiating short circuit, they ruled out both mechanical impact damage to the battery and external short circuiting. It was determined that signs of deformation and electrical arcing on the battery case occurred as a result of the battery malfunction and were not related to its cause.

Chairman Hersman said that potential causes of the initiating short circuit currently being evaluated include battery charging, the design and construction of the battery, and the possibility of defects introduced during the manufacturing process.

During the 787 certification process, Boeing studied possible failures that could occur within the battery. Those assessments included the likelihood of particular types of failures occurring, as well as the effects they could have on the battery. In tests to validate these assessments, Boeing found no evidence of cell-to-cell propagation or fire, both of which occurred in the JAL event.

The NTSB learned that as part of the risk assessment Boeing conducted during the certification process, it determined that the likelihood of a smoke emission event from a 787 battery would occur less than once in every 10 million flight hours. Noting that there have been two critical battery events on the 787 fleet with fewer than 100,000 flight hours, Hersman said that "the failure rate was higher than predicted as part of the certification process and the possibility that a short circuit in a single cell could propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire must be reconsidered."

As the investigation continues, which will include testing on some of the batteries that had been replaced after being in service in the 787 fleet, the NTSB will continue to share its findings in real time with the FAA, Boeing, the Japan Transport Safety Board, and the French investigative agency, the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses.

"The decision to return the fleet to flight will be made by the FAA, which underscores the importance of cooperation and coordination between our agencies," Hersman said.

She also announced that the NTSB would release an interim report of factual findings within 30 days.

Additional information, including a video of the today's media briefing, the PowerPoint presentation, the FAA's Special Conditions for the B-787 battery system, and related documents, can be accessed at

The NTSB will provide additional factual updates as developments warrant. To be alerted to any updates or developments, follow the NTSB on Twitter at
Resumption of 787 flights

Last Wednesday the FAA gave approval to Boeing to conduct a one off ferry flight of a 787 for China Southern Airlines 787, ZA382 (LN 43, B-2727) that was stuck in Ft. Worth, Texas for painting when the grounding occurred in mid January.  The ferry flight was from Ft. Worth to Everett and had a number of restrictions placed on it to ensure the safety of the flight crew on board.  The aircraft flew to Everett on Thursday and landed among a media circus gathered at Paine Field that evening.  Later that night , the FAA gave approval to Boeing's request to conduct flight tests using ZA005 (LN 5, N787FT) for the purposes of gather data on the lithium ion batteries while in flight.  Boeing will be looking to record data on moisture, vibrations and other environmental factors which may have contributed to the short circuiting of the cell.  Additionally, Boeing is hoping to conduct test on possible containment and venting systems as well as a more robust battery monitoring system to mitigate the risks of another lithium ion battery thermal event.  It is known that Boeing is working on a plan to submit per the FAA's emergency airworthiness directive that forced the 787 grounding. It is rumored that Boeing wold like to have this temporary solution on the customer airplanes and re certify them by the end of March though that may be very optimistic.  Boeing would have to convince the FAA on the soundness of their approach (which is being characterized as interim).  Additionally Boeing can forget, for now, on obtaining ETOPS 330 for the 787 based on the the battery issue as well as the other issues that has caused the FAA to imitate the 787 program review in early January. 

There maybe some one off 787 flights to reposition 787s that are stranded away from the their home bases (like the Polish LOT 787 in Chicago).  I don't have any data on the 787s that are stranded.  Air India conducted several ferry flights from Delhi to Mumbai of their 787s.  In my opinion, I believe the 787s can see a return to flights status around the April to May time frame.  The FAA is not going to rush them back to the air but they won't be 1000% safe as Ray LaHood promises that they will be.

Battery Plan

As mentioned earlier, Boeing is drawing up a plan to return the 787s to flight and to resume deliveries.  The FAA emergency airworthiness directive states "Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.
The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

This leaves a lot of leeway for Boeing to introduce a new battery protocol that would encompass monitoring, containment and venting in to the 787s fleet.  However, given the seriousness of the problem, this plan is being viewed as more of a temporary step with a view that Boeing may have to completely redesign and re certify (under more presumably stringent conditions) the lithium ion batteries.  The redesign and recertification may take up to a year to complete.  Boeing is reiterating that they will continue to use the lithium ion batteries.

Production and Flight Testing

Currently between North Charleston and Everett, Boeing has 19 787s that are complete and need to finish the typical Boeing/customer flight and ground test program that occurs prior to delivery.  There are 15 787s at Everett that are complete and 4 at Boeing Charleston.  Boeing is adding about 1 airplane per week to that total as production is continuing full tilt at both final assembly sites not including 787s coming from the EMC.  At this rate Boeing can double the number (to about 40) of 787s parked at both Charleston and Everett by the end of May if there isn't progress on the battery issue and a restart of deliveries.  Boeing is planning to deliver at least 9 re-worked 787s in 2013 along with about 55 or more non re-worked airplanes in 2013.   Some customers have already been alerted that near term deliveries will be delayed but I believe that the delays may extended into the summer due to the grounding.  If there is an extended grounding, Boeing may free up room around Everett by conducting the B-1 flights of 747s, 777s, and 767s from Everett but have them land at Boeing Field to finish the testing and delivery process.  This way spots can open up at Everett for more 787s that have to be parked.  Additionally there is room at the tower ramp, Runway 11/29 and the south ramp area at Everett.  On a brighter note, Boeing was able to finalize the order for 42 787s with American Airlines this past week.  That firm order will comprise of 20 787-8 and 22 787-9 plus 58 options which would encompass all 787 derivatives.  The first one is to be delivered in November 2014...about 21 months from now.