Report: Boeing, FAA Failed to Supervise Dreamliner Contractors

Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 12:43 PM

 

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U.S. regulators and Boeing Co. didn’t exercise enough quality control over subcontractors during the 787 Dreamliner’s development, according to a review prompted by battery failures that led to the longest grounding of a commercial airplane since the 1950s.

The review found the Dreamliner is safe, meets design standards and is about as reliable as other Boeing jetliners were after being introduced. The Federal Aviation Administration issued seven recommendations, four for Boeing and three for itself, to improve the way new aircraft design and manufacturing is overseen.

The report was posted today on the FAA’s website.

“The review team identified some problems with the manufacturing process and the way we oversee it, and we are moving quickly to address those problems,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

The FAA’s review of the 787’s certification and manufacturing, announced in January 2013, was separate from an ongoing probe by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board into what caused the battery incidents.

The two cases in which 787 batteries overheated and emitted fumes in the U.S. and Japan were another blemish on the more- efficient plane that was beset with manufacturing delays and production issues. That pushed its introduction more than three years behind schedule.

The 787 fell behind in part because the airline turned over more authority to suppliers than it had during development of previous models. The arrangement, designed to cut costs and reduce its risks, caused a series of delays starting in October 2007.

The first battery incident occurred Jan. 7, 2013, in Boston aboard a Japan Airlines Co. plane that had arrived from Tokyo. It emitted fumes and gave off high heat as if it was on fire, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

While no one was hurt and the plane didn’t suffer significant damage, the NTSB opened an investigation because the aircraft was so new and untested.

Two days later an All Nippon Airways Co. 787 made an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in southern Japan after another lithium-ion battery overheated and fumes entered the cabin.

Both Japanese carriers halted flights with 787s and the U.S. FAA followed on Jan. 17 with its order grounding the plane, the first such action in 34 years. At the time, there were 49 Dreamliners in service.

More than three months later, on April 19, the FAA announced it had approved a set of more rigorous battery standards allowing the plane to resume commercial operations.

The FAA directive required multiple additional protections for the batteries. Each of the individual eight cells was to be placed in a protective sleeve. The cells were enclosed in a steel case to prevent heat and fire from damaging a plane. A vent was devised so that any fumes would go outside the plane and not enter the cabin.

GS Yuasa Corp., based in Kyoto, Japan, makes the batteries, which are part of an electrical system built by France’s Thales SA. United Technologies Corp.’s Aerospace Systems unit supplies the system, which uses 1.45 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 400 homes.

Boeing had delivered 122 of the planes through February 2014, according to the company’s website. Airlines have ordered a total of 1,031 of the planes.

While the manufacturer boosted monthly production of the 787 to 10 from seven at the end of 2013, it has struggled to match deliveries with that schedule. The company handed over only eight planes to airlines this year through February.

Boeing is also contending with the potential for hairline cracks in wings on about 40 of its Dreamliners after supplier Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. changed its manufacturing process, the company announced March 8. None of the 40 planes had been delivered to airlines.

After the 2013 battery incidents and grounding, Boeing shares fell, from a close of $77.69 Jan. 4 to $73.65 Jan. 29, a 5.2 percent drop. As the investigation progressed and a fix was instituted, the shares climbed.

Shares have risen about 30 percent since the FAA announced it approved Boeing’s fix for the 787 April 19.

Dreamliners are the first commercial jets built chiefly of spun composite fibers instead of the traditional aluminum. The composite wing is distinctive for its 190-foot (58-meter) span and raked tips and, according to Boeing’s website, is about 20 percent lighter because of the new materials.


© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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