Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Federal Aviation Administration Initial Dreamliner Approval Is Reviewed

Updated February 6, 2013, 3:19 p.m. ET

The Wall Street Journal

The top U.S. investigator looking into burning batteries on Boeing Co. 787 jets said the probe will evaluate "the assessments that were made" initially by Federal Aviation Administration officials in approving the plane and what "more needs to be done" before the 787 fleet returns to service.

Deborah Hersman, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, also told reporters that the investigators looking into the 787 Dreamliner problems were "probably weeks away from being able to tell people, 'Here is what exactly happened and what needs to change.' "

The FAA grounded U.S.-registered Dreamliners on Jan. 16. That followed a fire in the lithium-ion battery on a parked Japan Airlines Co. aircraft in Boston on Jan. 7 and a burning battery on an All Nippon Airways Co.  787 that forced an emergency landing in Japan about a week later. Other global regulators followed the FAA by grounding all 50 Dreamliners operated by eight airlines world-wide.

Ms. Hersman on Wednesday said the safety board is looking not only at the cause of the battery failures but also at how well the FAA, years earlier, assessed the potential hazards of Boeing's lithium-ion installations. In dealing with Dreamliner battery issues, she said, it is important to determine that the "right risk assessment" was done before the planes started carrying passengers and what risk mitigation was put in place.

Air India's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft approaches for a landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi in September, 2012.

"We are evaluating assessments that have been made [by Boeing and the FAA], whether those assessments were accurate, whether they were complied with and whether more needs to be done," she said. "And I think that's important, before this airplane is back in the air, to really understand what the risks are and that they're mitigated effectively."

So far, neither U.S. nor Japanese investigators have identified a root cause for the JAL or ANA battery problems.

Ms. Hersman said the safety board is "consulting with the best minds in batteries" and lithium-ion technology to come up with answers.

The NTSB is expected to provide an extensive update of its investigation on Thursday morning, partly dealing with aircraft-certification issues and whether tougher standards now should be applied to large lithium-ion batteries installed on airliners or business jets.

The FAA meanwhile is evaluating a request from Boeing to perform its own flight testing in an attempt to find the cause of the battery failures.


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