Despite saying it has full confidence in the safety of Boeing’s new 787, the FAA has launched a technical investigation into the root causes of a series of electrical issues that have dogged the widebody since its entry into service with international and U.S. carriers.
Most recently, a Japan Airlines 787 was grounded in Boston following a fire that began in the lithium ion battery in the aft electric/electronic equipment bay. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is investigating this incident, which follows a string of other electrical system in-service issues dating back to a power panel problem in June 2012.
The power system issues peaked last month, beginning with the diversion of a United Airlines 787 to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airports on Dec. 4 because of the same power panel and followed by similar events on Qatar Airways and LAN Airlines aircraft in December. The in-service fleet also has been affected by airworthiness directives covering leaks in the fuel system and pre-cautionary checks of the fan mid-shaft on the General Electric GEnx-1B powered versions. Sixty 787s are in service—six at United—operating an average of 150 flights per day.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the review this morning with newly confirmed FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Ray Conner, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ president and CEO.
“We are conducting a comprehensive review of the design and production of the 787,” says LaHood, “including critical systems, design, manufacturing and assembly.”
Huerta says the FAA and Boeing technical experts will focus on aircraft’s electrical system, batteries and power distribution panels, and how the electrical and mechanical systems interact.
Connor says that the 200,000 hr. of certification work that Boeing did with the FAA was the “most robust and rigorous certification process in history of aviation,” but that problems do occur with new aircraft entering service, especially one as innovative as the 787.
“We have complete confidence in the 787, and so do our customers,” says Connor. “We welcome any opportunity to ensure people outside the industry of the integrity of the aircraft. Every new commercial aircraft has issues on entry into service.”
Huerta says the review will validate the certification process the FAA and Boeing conducted, delving into the root causes for issues while looking broadly at the design and production, rather than specifically at incidents. He would not give a time frame on how long the review will take.