SEATTLE – Boeing on Monday called the 787 the most tested airliner flying. Six test jets flew thousands of hours, following extensive testing of the plane’s electrical system in a ground-based lab before any plane took flight.
But despite that extensive testing, how could two batteries on two different planes fail in two consecutive weeks?
Short of a breakthrough in the investigation into the two battery fires, this Wednesday will mark the start of the third week Boeing’s 787s will have been grounded. Now, hundreds of engineers, many of whom worked to get the jet certified to begin with, are back at work trying to figure out where Boeing goes from here.
They’re working in teams, and multiple sources with knowledge of the company say Boeing’s strategy is as follows.
1. Find the root cause of the battery incidents. Engineers are working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration to get to the bottom of a battery fire in Boston and a smoking battery aboard a second jet in Japan.
2. Get airborne. How to prepare for a range of fixes to comply as soon as possible with the FAA’s airworthiness directive that grounded the jets on January 16.
3. Scenario planning. What if the use of lithium ion batteries was banned altogether, or regulators made another major move that would force Boeing to redesign the electrical architecture of the 787.
“I think we still have some hope of a relatively short term solution," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group in Washington, D.C.
But he sees the grounding as part of a broader problem that included the extra 3 1/2 years it took to get the 787 delivered to the airlines starting in late 2011. The plane was originally going to deliver in 2008. He says a worst case scenario might keep Dreamliners from carrying passengers for six to nine months.
“Now you’re talking about hundreds of millions on top of well... well over 10 billion. This is a tremendously expensive problem," said Aboulafia.