787 probe far from over, regulator 'concerned'
ReutersWASHINGTON/TOKYO -- U.S. safety regulators are nowhere near finishing an investigation into a battery fire on the Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner, a top official said on Thursday, raising the prospect of a prolonged grounding for the aircraft.
January 26, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), made clear that investigators have found a series of “symptoms” in the battery damaged in a Jan. 7 fire in Boston, but not the underlying cause of the problem. She also said the agency would be looking at the design of the battery compartment area of the plane and whether the certification standards had been strong enough.
The comments were seen by some safety experts within the aerospace industry as a clear signal that this is no longer just a teething issue for the new plane.
That will raise questions about the financial impact for Boeing, which is still running its assembly lines and backing up aircraft to be delivered, and for airlines, many of which counted on getting the futuristic 787 for their expansion plans.
“We are early in our investigation, we have a lot of activities to undertake,” Hersman told a news conference.
“This is an unprecedented event. We are very concerned. We do not expect to see fire events on board aircraft. This is a very serious air safety concern.”
She rebuffed multiple questions on how long the investigation would take, making clear it could be weeks or more. She also would not say when the 787 would fly again, which is in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Former NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the briefing made it clear the investigators had come up short in their hunt for the cause of the battery fire.
“It's going to take them longer,” he said in an interview. “Weeks, not days.”
The 787 has been grounded worldwide since an All Nippon Airways plane made an emergency landing in Japan on Jan. 16 after a battery incident, which Hersman said may or may not have been a fire.
That emergency landing came after a fire occurred on a Japan Airlines Co Ltd. 787 on the tarmac in Boston.
In a statement late on Thursday, Boeing said it was cooperating with regulators and had teams of “hundreds of engineering and technical experts” working on the situation.
“Boeing is eager to see both investigative groups continue their work and determine the cause of these events, and we support their thorough resolution,” the company said, adding it was not permitted to comment directly on the ongoing investigations.
Still, Boeing shares are actually up 1.3 percent since regulators said the plane -- full of high-tech innovations that are supposed to be a model for future aviation -- could not fly.
The National Transportation Safety Board's Joseph Kolly holds an opened damaged battery cell case from the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner that caught fire at Logan ...