January 28, 2013
Credit: Credit: NTSB/AP Wide World
John Croft Washington
Three years ago, FAA internal experts called for more testing of lithium-ion batteries and possible rule changes following an assessment of the emerging technology at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. FAA headquarters has not yet acted on the concerns, and by late Jan. 24 had not publicly explained why.
“How these batteries will react in a fire situation and what type of fire hazard they pose themselves must be examined,” the FAA Fire Safety Team wrote in its January 2010 final report. “Tests must be performed to ensure the batteries provide an appropriate level of safety. Current regulatory and test requirements may need to be updated to address the hazards associated with this new technology.”
The revelation comes as FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is asking the government and aerospace industry for fresh ideas on how to solve the technical challenges of an increasingly complex aviation industry, a move that could signal a desire to retool how the agency approaches aircraft certification, based on issues emerging on the Boeing 787.
Barely two weeks into his five-year tenure as FAA administrator, Huerta ordered a “comprehensive review” and grounding of the 787, which the safety agency instituted on Jan. 11 and Jan. 16, respectively, due in large part to a series of battery problems. He will not speculate on when the review might be complete, or detail the process. “The FAA takes very seriously its responsibility to certify aircraft safety standards, and we're moving forward with a review of the critical systems of the Boeing 787,” says Huerta. “When we have a concern, we will analyze it until we are satisfied.”
Huerta adds that the FAA must “restore the highest level of safety and create the best methods and best procedures that will service the industry.”
It is not clear whether Huerta's remarks signal unhappiness with the input and guidance the FAA already receives from myriad government-industry rulemaking and advisory groups or the agency's own technical laboratories, or whether the FAA plans to create new mechanisms for input.
“We are never going to lose sight of our respective roles, but that does not mean there is not a seat at the table for bright minds from the industry to help inform the best way of navigating complex technical issues,” Huerta said on Jan. 23 during a lunch meeting with industry officials. “Changing our culture . . . for greater collaboration is the tactic to maintaining the safest aviation system in the world.”