Pierre J. Jeanniot
The Boeing 787 Problem Remains Unresolved
February 15, 2013 >>
It is nearly a month since the Boeing B787 Dreamliner was grounded by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and at this time there is as yet no final solution in sight that would permit the airplane to fly again.
This was recently reaffirmed by the Chairman of the NTSB, Debra Hershman, who stated that “we now know what is wrong – but we do not know why”.
The source of the problems and how to fix them have remained elusive and the NTSB has been working its way through, evaluating every battery element, the electrical system including the charging system and auxiliary power unit controller. The root cause could derive from manufacturing flaws in individual units, or problems with the system designed to prevent the battery from over-charging.
Despite the outward display of support, some B787 operators are understood to be asking Boeing for compensation, and Boeing has now admitted that the battery mishap could have material effect on its financial position.
Airbus is for that matter also confronted with similar claims for the length of time required to implement a permanent A-380 wing repair that had become a major issue for airlines earlier this year.
Analysts believe the outcome will most likely be that Boeing will identify and fix the problem over the next several weeks or a month at most – but there is yet to be light at the end of the tunnel.
The current investigation also affects the FAA and a US Senate Committee has called for a hearing on the B787 battery issues. The Committee says it will look into the FAA’s decision to certify the B787 with lithium-ion batteries as part of its previously planned examination of the U.S. aviation oversight.
The FAA Administrator, Richard Huerta, is asking the aerospace industry for ideas on how to solve the technical challenges of an increasingly complex aviation industry, a move which could signal the need to retool the agency approach to aircraft certification based on the issues emerging on the B787.
The question of how the B787 lithium-ion battery passed a comprehensive list of FAA approved special conditions as part of the aircraft certification continues to be at the heart of what has become a public relations issue for the FAA.
The joint strike fighter – the F35 – which had been under review by the Canadian Air Force as a replacement of their ageing fighters, may be affected.
The F35’s electrical system, which incorporates a lithium-ion battery that is larger and of higher voltage than that of the B787, is said to require to be replaced on a once per sortie cycle. It is the fighter integrated power pack which starts the engine and also provides a second back up source of electrical power to flight control avionics in the event that the engine electrical power generator fails.
This could be just one more problem facing the F35 program which has been under development for eleven years, and has thus far consumed 50 billion dollars or so.