US regulators plan to review Boeing 787’s critical systems

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it will conduct a comprehensive review of the Boeing 787’s critical systems, including the design, manufacture and assembly of the aircraft.

The move follows a series of incidents experienced by airlines operating the 787 Dreamliner, including severe fire damage to the auxiliary power unit battery (APU) of a Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 at Boston Logan Airport on 7 January.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that thermal damage to the surrounding structure and components was confined to the area immediately near the APU battery rack — within about 20in (51cm) — in the aft electronics bay.

In a statement, NTSB said: ‘Preliminary reports from JAL representatives indicate that aircraft maintenance and cleaning personnel were on the aircraft with the APU in operation just prior to the detection of smoke in the cabin and that Boston Logan Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting was contacted.

‘Rescue and fire personnel and equipment responded to the aircraft and detected a fire in the electronics and equipment bay near the APU battery box. Initial reports indicate that the fire was extinguished about 40 minutes after arrival of the first rescue and fire personnel. One firefighter received minor injuries.’

Reuters today reported that the 787 suffered a cracked cockpit window and an oil leak on separate All Nippon Airlines (ANA) flights in Japan. Other issues experienced by separate 787 aircraft this week are said to include a fuel leak on a JAL Dreamliner in the US and a brake control anomaly on an ANA-operated aircraft in Japan that led to a domestic flight cancellation.

FAA said today: ‘The purpose of the review is to validate the work conducted during the certification process and to further ensure that the aircraft meets the FAA’s high level of safety.’

‘This review will help us look at the root causes and do everything we can to safeguard against similar events in the future,’ said US transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

A team of FAA and Boeing engineers and inspectors will conduct the review, with the regulator adding that there will be an emphasis on the aircraft’s electrical power and distribution system. The review will also examine how the electrical and mechanical systems interact with each other.

‘We are confident that the aircraft is safe, but we need to have a complete understanding of what is happening,’ said FAA administrator Michael P Huerta.

FAA technical experts logged 200,000 hours of work during the 787 type certification and flew numerous test flights. Boeing added that the aircraft has logged 50,000 hours of flight with more than 150 flights occurring daily.

The 787 programme was launched in April 2004 with an order from ANA. A total of 57 customers have placed orders for more than 800 aircraft valued at more than $185bn (£115bn).

Major assembly began in June 2006 and the aircraft flew for the first time in December 2009.