The US safety investigator the NTSB has now set two special 787 related hearings for this month around which the FAA, the air safety regulator will have to fly as it decides when to allow the grounded Dreamliners to return to the skies.

In the latest development the NTSB says it will conduct an investigative hearing in Washington DC on 23-24 April to examine issues relating to the design, testing, and certification of the heavy duty lithium-ion batteries used in the Boeing 787, with particular reference to the one that burned uncontrolled for at least 99 minutes in a JAL Dreamliner on the tarmac at Boston Airport on 7 January.

The NTSB, the equivalent of the ATSB in this country, but independent of the FAA, the equivalent of Australia’s CASA, has previously scheduled a forum on 11-12 April on lithium-ion battery technology in general.

The ‘burning’ question is whether the FAA, as Boeing keeps insisting it should, will lift its grounding order on the Dreamliners before the NTSB hearings have been held.  The NTSB is also inquiring into the Boston incident, however that investigation is open ended and there is no certainty as to when it will be concluded or even if it can determine a precise failure path that caused the fire, which was in an electrical systems bay under the rear passenger cabin of the 787.

The FAA is currently performing and supervising extensive ground testing of a new super fire box  battery containment system designed by Boeing to allow lithium-ion batteries to burn out if they catch fire without causing toxic fumes or hot chemical pastes to escape into the cabin of a 787 in flight, whatever the cause of such a fire.

The Boeing ‘permanent fix’ is also to be demonstrated in the air in a single and final certification flight in a production 787 due to the delivered to LOT Polish Airlines as soon as the FAA’s grounding order of mid January is lifted.

Several 787 pre-delivery and instrument and systems calibration and modification flights have already been carried out, with Boeing saying that some unrelated issues with power boards in the cockpits of some 787s and other matters were being taken care of during the grounding.

Qantas doesn’t seem to be totally convinced by Boeing’s optimism that the Dreamliner will quickly return to the skies, at least in relation to its own previously expected delivery of the first of 14 787s it has on order for Jetstar which was due to take place in August. It is reported as saying it is prepared for a possible minor delay.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey