FAA Review of 787 Is An Illusion

Ray LaHood, the head of the U.S. Government’s Department of Transportation, declared the the Boeing 787 is safe to fly. Yet, in the same press event, LaHood announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will conduct a complete safety review of the 787 to reassess the electrical systems and production process/quality control. This action is unprecedented.


The FAA doesn’t have the expertise to lead or devise a definitive plan to execute this effort. Given the complexity of the plane and the task, it could take several years before a FAA reassessment plan could be designed and implemented unless Boeing is really going to lead this effort. I suspect the FAA will participate in a safety review but will not lead the effort as has been advanced.

Doesn’t Boeing have the most to gain or lose from the current problems being reported? Boeing must have an extreme sense of urgency to understand and initiate corrective action for any and all of the problems that have surfaced that represent potential threats to the airworthiness of the aircraft.

One can only imagine the setback a catastrophic failure of a 787 would represent for Boeing and the airline industry which is counting on this product to increase efficiencies airlines face serving a global marketplace.

A Japan Airlines 787 had to abort a trip from Boston to Japan due to a fuel leak in a fuel nozzle.  CNN reports that the plane was later flown back to Japan for a more thorough examination. Personally, I would have flown it to Boeing in Seattle or South Carolina for that examination rather than half-way around the world. But, that’s just me.

A final thought: I’m not sure I want Ray LaHood to be a cheerleader for Boeing and the airworthiness of the Boeing 787.  The effort to certify a plane is extensive and exhaustive–I wrote about it in Fast Company. The FAA has already invested some 200,000 hours in the original certification process. But, the sample size for certification is limited.  It is certainly reasonable that supply chain complexities and design or producibility issues will surface as production is ramped up. Realistically, though, the burden is on Boeing.  The FAA can provide oversight, but, let’s not kid ourselves: the oversight is limited.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting http://www.gardnerandassoc.com



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