Tuesday, March 12, 2013

FAA approves Boeing's 787 recovery plan

Today the FAA announced that they approved of Boeing's re-certification plan for the lithium ion batteries made by GS Yuasa of Japan.  The FAA will be looking over Boeing's shoulder every step of the way. This is obviously in reaction to the criticism that the agency received in light of the certification of the 787 and the lithium ion batteries in particular.

Boeing will be using two airframes to conduct the tests: ZA005 (LN 5, N787FT) and ZA272 (LN 86, SP-LRC) a 787 that is destined for LOT Polish Airlines.  I do expect that test flights should start by Thursday, Friday at the absolute latest.  Boeing has approval to conduct the flights on only two 787s and they may need to conduct more test flights if the FAA says they need more data.

There is no word on how long the re-certification program will take but it will encompass both ground and flight tests.  Boeing gave a very detailed plan and the FAA has given their feedback in terms of the parameters and tests that have to be met in order for the the lifting of the airworthiness directive.

To be sure this plan will probably take some time to complete to the FAA's satisfaction and because of all the negative publicity surrounding the battery and the FAA's oversight I wouldn't be surprised if the testing and reviews takes up to two months before the airworthiness directive is lifted. 
Additionally, when the NTSB came out with their preliminary results of the fire investigation on the JAL 787 in Boston, they announced that they will have two hearings in April, one covering the use of lithium ion batteries and one covering the design and certification of the 78 battery system.  You can be sure that both Boeing and the FAA will get a lot of heat at both these hearings and will certainly increase the pressure on both organizations. You can access the JAL 787 docket here.

So what does this mean for the resumption of flights and deliveries.  Assuming that the FAA is happy with the testing and the results, I can see revenue flights starting again in about 2 months time.  That would be around the middle of May.  Boeing has already been producing the necessary kits for the battery modifications though I'm not sure how long it wold take to modify the aircraft.  The modifications does involve cutting a vent hole in the CRFP skin of the aircraft.  Additionally Boeing will have to modify the 25 (and counting) 787s at Everett and Charleston as well retrofit those that are further back in the production backlog.  Once the undelivered aircraft have been retrofitted they can resume the standard ground and flight test regime that Boeing and customers put each airframe through before the aircraft is formally handed over.  I can see deliveries resuming around the middle of June though I cannot venture a guess as to how many they will be able to deliver.  Boeing will have its work cut out for it if they are to deliver more than 60 787s this year.  They would need to deliver 10/month in order to accomplish that.  It's doable but will require a lot of resources to decrease the built up inventory being stored.

Here's Boeing's statement from this afternoon:

Boeing Receives FAA Approval of Certification Plan for 787 Battery Solution

EVERETT, Wash., March 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Boeing (NYSE: BA) has received approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the company's plan to test and certify improvements to the 787's battery system. Successful completion of each step within the plan will result in the FAA's approval to resume commercial 787 flights.

"Our top priority is the integrity of our products and the safety of the passengers and crews who fly on them," said Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney. "Our team has been working around the clock to understand the issues and develop a solution based on extensive analysis and testing following the events that occurred in January. Today's approval from the FAA is a critical and welcome milestone toward getting the fleet flying again and continuing to deliver on the promise of the 787," he said.  
Ray Conner, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that the company's focus has been on developing a permanent resolution.

"Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions designed to significantly minimize the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane," said Conner.

"Our proposal includes three layers of improvements. First, we've improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do. Second, we've enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components. Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we've introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers," Conner said.
Design feature improvements for the battery include the addition of new thermal and electrical insulation materials and other changes. The enhanced production and testing processes include more stringent screening of battery cells prior to battery assembly. Operational improvements focus on tightening of the system's voltage range. A key feature of the new enclosure is that it ensures that no fire can develop in the enclosure or in the battery. Additional details of the new design will be provided by Boeing in the days ahead.

Boeing made its certification plan proposal to the FAA in late February. Today the agency agreed that the proposed changes and the detailed test plans address the conditions that resulted in the suspension of 787 operations.

The FAA also granted Boeing permission to begin flight test activities on two airplanes: line number 86, which will conduct tests to demonstrate that the comprehensive set of solutions work as intended in flight and on the ground; and ZA005, which is scheduled to conduct engine improvement tests unrelated to the battery issue. Additional testing may be scheduled as needed.

The certification plan calls for a series of tests that show how the improved battery system will perform in normal and abnormal conditions. The test plans were written based on the FAA's standards as well as applicable guidelines published by the Radio Technical Commission on Aeronautics (RTCA), an advisory committee that provides recommendations on ways to meet regulatory requirements. The RTCA guidelines were not available when the original 787 battery certification plan was developed. 
"We have a great deal of confidence in our solution set and the process for certifying it," said Conner. "Before 787s return to commercial service, our customers and their passengers want assurance that the improvements being introduced will make this great airplane even better. That's what this test program will do."
The FAA also released the following:

Press Release – FAA Approves Boeing 787 Certification Plan

For Immediate Release

March 12, 2013
Contact: Laura J. Brown
Phone: (202) 267-3455

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today approved the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company's certification plan for the redesigned 787 battery system, after thoroughly reviewing Boeing’s proposed modifications and the company’s plan to demonstrate that the system will meet FAA requirements. The certification plan is the first step in the process to evaluate the 787’s return to flight and requires Boeing to conduct extensive testing and analysis to demonstrate compliance with the applicable safety regulations and special conditions.

“This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”

The battery system improvements include a redesign of the internal battery components to minimize initiation of a short circuit within the battery, better insulation of the cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system.

“We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign,” said FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. “Today’s announcement starts a testing process which will demonstrate whether the proposed fix will work as designed.”

The certification plan requires a series of tests which must be passed before the 787 could return to service. The plan establishes specific pass/fail criteria, defines the parameters that should be measured, prescribes the test methodology and specifies the test setup and design. FAA engineers will be present for the testing and will be closely involved in all aspects of the process.

The FAA also has approved limited test flights for two aircraft. These aircraft will have the prototype versions of the new containment system installed. The purpose of the flight tests will be to validate the aircraft instrumentation for the battery and battery enclosure testing in addition to product improvements for other systems.

The FAA will approve the redesign only if the company successfully completes all required tests and analysis to demonstrate the new design complies with FAA requirements. The FAA’s January 16, 2013 airworthiness directive, which required operators to temporarily cease 787 operations, is still in effect, and the FAA is continuing its comprehensive review of the 787 design, production and manufacturing process.
Already the FAA is confident of the plan that Boeing submitted and the FAA approved thus the stakes are being set with a lot on the line with regards to the re-certification program.  Boeing and the FAA cannot afford to get this wrong.



TexanInArkansas said...

Any idea how long it will take to install the "fix" on each airframe?

TravelingMan said...

Not sure about that. But I suspect it'll take a couple of weeks per plane. But perhaps they can work on more than one plane at a time.

TexanInArkansas said...

There is a live briefing from Boeing on the batter fix:


Anonymous said...

From the briefing:

"We're about a third of the way through the certification-process"

"We have been working on the certification for a little over a week"

When asked how long it would take they answered:

"We are talking about weeks not months"

So i suppose this might take less time than most are expecting.

Uresh, are you going to revise your prediction or am i getting ahead of myself here?