As the investigation continues to narrow down the apparent cause to the internal workings of the battery, rather than the associated charging or control systems, it is still unclear whether the FAA will accept an interim configuration designed to mitigate and contain a failure condition that may well recur in service.
Confirmation that the focus is shifting to internal failures came this week when the NTSB acknowledged it is investigating possible links to the formation of small build-ups known as dendrites. Late in January, battery experts told Aviation Week that NTSB testing at the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center laboratories included examination for signs of dendrite-caused short circuiting.
Boeing’s decision not to slow down 787 production or development of the stretched 787-9 also is seen by suppliers as “a bullish indication” that the company remains confident of working through the issues. Parker Hannifin and Eaton, two major suppliers on the 787, say they have had no sign from Boeing that the aircraft’s supply flow would be cut back.
“We have weekly interactions at all the right levels, and right now it’s full steam ahead in terms of production,” Parker Aerospace President Roger Sherrard tells Aviation Week. “We don’t see any near-term impact at this point.”
Business As Usual
Craig Arnold, chief operating officer for Eaton’s Industrial Sector, which includes Eaton Aerospace, also notes, “They have a very long backlog of 787s, and to the extent that they take their foot off the accelerator it’s tough to catch up.
“Right now, it’s business as usual. They’re building airplanes, and we’re shipping to their lines and they’re confident they’re going to work through this.”
As 787s roll off the Everett and Charleston, S.C., lines at a combined rate of about one per week, Boeing is considering contingency plans for freeing up extra storage space at its Washington manufacturing site. By mid-February, 22 completed new aircraft are expected to be awaiting delivery, of which 16 will be at Everett. A further 20 aircraft are waiting for or undergoing change incorporation, of which about nine were originally expected to be completed in 2013.