Sunday, January 13, 2013

Part III:... Is IT?:Core-Rectal(ional) Examination

The FAA, not to be confused with the Future Farmers Of America (FFA), is sending its most powerful examination tools towards the 787 aircraft and program. Boeing is going to wince with discomfort as the scopes, clamps, and magnifiers tries to recreate what went wrong, with the so called (by the FAA and its own standards) "A Safe Airplane", otherwise known as the 787.  Upfront, I want to remind all that I am a big fan of the 787 and its future follow-on siblings. I too, believe it is a miraculous aircraft, but I don't drink the Kool-Aid from Boeing, to make my day.

The NSTB Is Reaching Into Places with a Bright Light, where people shouldn't have to reach into, at this JAL's 787 young age.

The probe has just begun, even as bad as this may sound for Boeing, it’s part of the maturation process of validating something that is already off-the-scale of complexity, and now the FAA is reviewing what has not been done before, as the "World's Largest Aviation Giant, Boeing", winches in silence(I had to write that for Mr. Leahy :)). Even though the A-380 was off-the-scale as in Ginormous, it has had its day in aviation court with a blown (up and out) engine, cracked wings and other design issues. The most important thing is that, it made it through with the safe efforts of pilots, and design features playing up against possible catastrophic disasters.  

This is where the Boeing 787 now finds itself.  Treat the JAL 787 fire issue with urgency, as if it had actually crashed, when approaching these all the new and recent problems. So much study and rethinking has already gone into this model, that it is more than important to finish the journey. The "Journey" continues today, in the capacity of going through an examine, as  "Proof of Real World Operations" with the FAA. This is not a test sequence, it is the reality of what Boeing is experiencing with its customers during continuous operations.  Real mechanics, flight attendants and pilots, who ply the airline skies without engineering degrees, or computer simulations by their sides, discover abruptly when something goes sideways.  It's hard to build  computer models that will isolate problems in reality, the engineers only can deal in theory and give an optimal account of what should or could happen.  However, in the supplier and production world that the 787 now exists in, the 787 is no longer a child of an absolute controlled environment, when being assembled, and stuffed with parts from all over the world.  The FAA will compare theory with reality and try to find necessary steps to close that gap, so Boeing will have a sound supply chain and assembly process for all components going into the 787.

The FAA will hopefully feed off the following NTSB on three important talking points.

1. What went wrong in all cases?

2. What Went Right in all cases?

3. Or was it luck?

Nobody has been harmed at this point. All the incidences have been recoverable or occurred off-flight. That is a testament to its design and timing luck.  The timing luck comes from engine parts flying out before initial take-off during tests, before its scheduled delivery to Air India. Fire occurring long after plane has landed and passengers are gone from the JAL 787. Passengers have been spared any anxious moments as the aircraft courses its way to a safe haven when suffering another embarrassment, or a calamity and rests out of view from paying passengers.

So far, the design points recover the aircraft while in-flight when something bad happens.  A bad electrical control panel(United), or generator(United and Qatar), have back-ups installed (let us not forget the failed brake and non-electrical issues of a cracked cockpit window). Design backs-up the critical nature and dependency of electrical motors for flight surfaces, and also its electronic dependency for keeping the aircraft flying.  Add to that, the system tasks for in-cabin atmosphere and other fundamental life support systems, which rely on electrical power for those passengers on-board. Electricity then is the core component for flying and keeping its passenger going, during 41,000 feet high excursions.  A passenger shouldn't worry.  Passengers already rely on a bleed-air by-pass system on pre-787 passenger aircraft, where that feature is does not even into view of their (passengers)conscience state when flying on that type of system. But over time (the last 60 years) and millions of miles it does essentially does the same thing for the aircraft during its flight as the 787 aircraft does, where this older system imposes a greater fuel penalty during flight. In essence, Bleed-Air/By-Pass indirectly powers everything you need when flying. But with engines out, the plane is on limited power, allowing for a limited amount of time for control to glide it down.

The 787 has a longer flight control time with engines out, on its back-up power systems  with the higher price of greater reliance on electricity to fly the airplane. So if electricity fails with engines going, the flying equation becomes complicated.  But, a reserve PTO  would/could step in and assist aircraft electrical functions through back-up generators, control panels and systems.  This an important point to know when flying during ETOPs routes.

The FAA will seek a broader scope 787 examination and leave no stone unturned. Then they will narrow it down to route causes for Boeing to respond in final analysis. They will look at each process and system that goes into the airplane. They will examine Boeing's ISO procedures and Quality Management controls, tying them back to incidences that have already occurred   FAA will take the problem and expand it out to the source creators (suppliers) and then bring it back to installation on the aircraft. Then compare it with a sound and in service  787.
Boeing will chase the FAA around before both go to the principals office.  Many problems will solved and fixed before the final report from FAA. Boeing will build a big rubber stamp, for the final report that has lettering on it,  indicating "We Concur".  A smaller stamp saying "All issues addressed by FAA are now in compliance of the FAA Findings and Recommendations." I know this to be true, because many a time during my own reviews as an Internal Auditor, it was difficult for management to come to grasps with Findings or even the Recommendations, because of their denial for failure found within the program. A Manager has the responsibility for those things under their supervision.   This will be tough days for some careers.  The "right thing to do" is now upon Boeing, and changes will be made.

This is a vast generalization of the process, but everyone needs an understanding of the enormity of this undertaking with Boeing, and the time it will take to finish the FAA review project. The time period of study starts in 2003, and continues through to 2012. Many non-essential areas, already solid, will not receive a detail review, but will have a good cursory review non-the-less.  Affected critical systems, and prior testing documentations relating to those systems will occur in extreme detail. Suppliers relating to affected systems will have to bear the brunt of the attention from the FAA  during its conducting of reviews.

Here Are More bullet points shot from my imaginary To-Do FAA Cannon:

  • Incorporate NTSB Findings and Recommendations Into  General FAA Examinations
  • Core Technology Investigations on electrical systems
  • Electric systems, software, firmware Investigations
  • Work processes leaning towards  core technology examinations from supplier and assembly by Boeing.
  • Conduct A Source supplier examination, and documentation reviewing areas  deemed critical.
  • Test Boeing Assumptions related to critical areas as valid reliance on systems. In other-words does Boeing accept on face value and give trust towards its supplied parts from out of company sources without further validation tests?

The Hanging Chad Makes A Comeback With The FAA

What the FAA has tasked itself to do is look under every part, every shelf and every system to determine if any related functions/functionality contributes towards an established unsafe conditions that are found in recent 787 aircraft, or are there any other unseen airworthiness problems, not before determined or addressed.  They must check system assumptions to see if they are valid under the conditions that caused the JAL fire. They must go farther than Boeing did, to find out what happened, and correct it with Boeing's help in the problem solving tasks. While this going on, Boeing needs to keep flying safe with no problems.  The FAA Electron Microscope has wheeled itself into position, and will be looking at Boeing's DNA.

This brings us to the the 60 Billion dollar question:

  • Will the FAA findings lead to a major redesign of Boeing's dependency for an all electric system?
  • Or will it find minor tweaks that assures the system is fundamentally safe, and can be trusted if those following steps or changes are made?
I suspect the answer is found in the second option, additional safe guards built-in to the aircraft, and Quality Management steps installed to prevent any occurrence of electrical failures .  Had the systems and precautions prevented a failure of the Lithium Ion battery and fire in the first place, then Boeing wouldn't be faced with a very personal and private examination of its 787. 

In A Long While, FAA's, Mr Michael Huerta,Will Answer One Of Those Two Questions!