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FAA Approval Process Draws Scrutiny

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to carry passengers in accordance with its normal standards and procedures. Those standards are now being called into question by the National Transportation Safety Board due to the problems that have been encountered since the 787 began flying. Several incidents, including an emergency landing and a battery fire last month, forced the FAA to ground the 787 and launch a full investigation into the aircraft.

The Chairman of the NTSB stated that the FAA and Boeing made assumptions about the safety of the Dreamliner and that some of those assumptions were not met. She went on to say that the standards used by the FAA and Boeing to certify the safety of the plane "must be reconsidered." The investigation into the Dreamliner is now five weeks old and no end date has yet been fixed.

The NTSB has highlighted certification testing of the lithium-ion battery system of the 787. Boeing tested the battery system and concluded that a failure could cause smoke to come from the battery system and that it would happen approximately once per every 10 million flight hours. That testing is noteworthy because there have been two such incidents in the first 50,000 hours of flight time accumulated by Dreamliners.

The cause of the fire that occurred on the ground in Boston was identified by the NTSB. It indicated that the fire was triggered by a short-circuit inside a battery cell, causing a thermal chain reaction that spread to other cells. It has not yet been determined if the short-circuit was caused by internal battery defects or contamination, but the NTSB did announce that it was not caused by impact damage sustained to the battery.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Air-Worthy Review of 787 Draws U.S. Scrutiny," by Andy Pasztor and Jon Ostrower, 7 February 2013

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