Sunday, July 21, 2013

The 787 Non Systemic Causal Fire

Is an important milestone for the aircraft moving forward. Fire is a result of a nonconforming installation of a very proven part on the 787. The FAA responds by ordering inspections on all 787's for this area as a validation that all 787 will be safe to fly. It is important to understand, that even though there have been several fires for various electrical reasons, such as Lithium-Ion battery, electrical panels and various parts failures as shown by system indicators, this last fire with the ELT, is not in the relevant range of those items listed but indicates an abnormal condition from its installation. The battery case of the ELT can withstand submersion and is designed to withstand a humidity in a saturated environment. Humidity occurring on a shutdown system, causing a short and then fire requires a multiple of conditions. The FAA and European investigators understand this well and honed in on the ELT area as the source of the fire. The high humidity, is a contributing  factor, a crimped wire another event both of which in tandem would make for an awkward condition for electrical shorting. Could a crimped wire caught in a battery compartment cover, that is supposed to be sealed from water or humidity, cause the unsealed area to have an electrical short in the containment area? I don't know, just speculating over press information. A bad practice of mine and a plausible indulgence when blogging. However, it sounds like a human error on one of 68 flying copies of a much beleaguered aircraft with multiple hiccups.

Boeing has been truly fortunate with the lessons learned and no catastrophic loss. They are rounding the bend for the home stretch of a fully inducted and working 787 without chinks in the armour. The customers have been truly extraordinary with its loyalty and patience. This is a testament where the 787 potential recognized outweighs this shaking out of its technology. Another indicator light on, another return to base, is another day. It also becomes another to-do list item back at the factory. The book of to do's from concept stage to operational reality, is getting thicker by the week, every time something lights up in its system. The great thing if you can call it "great", is that system indicators are keeping this aircraft safely flying. Without them, a problem could advance to a irrecoverable situation. The miracle of the 787 is its vast systems, enabling the 787 a safe landing 500-1000 miles later, or taking it back to its origin. The fuel pumps indicates failure and systems manage the return flight back to the maintenance center of its origin. The airplane specifies what part is needed before it lands or what system check is required. This becomes a negative headline when in fact the airplane is doing what its designed to do, keep it flying. The press reports another Boeing calamity.  Soon there will be a hundred of these airplanes out the Boeing door. Each manufacturing segment of numbered aircraft is better than the previous group as it arrives at the big Boeing doors. Every flying copy of the 787 is in a continuous improvement mode and stays ahead of the next aircraft loaded in the factory. By the time that factory aircraft reaches the flight line, it is equal to the ones flying, but better than it was first designed from the plans laid out at the other end of the factory.

Is it comforting to know that Boeing is doing just in time upgrades on its flying fleet and transposing those lessons learned immediately to the factory floor or the Paine Field flight line? Yes! Does this mean Boeing is testing its aircraft at the expense of its customer? The answer is no, because the systems installed makes it a safe airplane. It flies like it is designed. A million or more parts work together until one of the million or more parts indicates a fault.  Fires are a big concern by everybody, since fires can be sourced from a variety of conditions or systems, as it is now experiencing. Are these problems predictable and part of the risk of a new airplane? Once again it is No! Boeing does not even come close to wanting this publicity, expecting its customers to shake out new airplane bugs. They spent ten of thousands of hours testing everything to a satisfactory reliance and confidence with the 787. Its goal was to deliver a turnkey aircraft that customers would love for its ease of having it in its fleets.  The customer sees the possibilities and its mind boggling on what it can do with its business model. So what is the problem?

The problem is the quantum leap Boeing has taken on this endeavor. No matter how diligent it conceived this aircraft, the real time operations with its own manufacturing partners (both in the supplier phase and customer phase), are reaching a point on the home stretch, where more than 68 million parts on its 68 flying copies are shaking out the weak links, that Boeing did not or could not be aware of during the test phase. They deduced they had a solid aircraft during first delivery. Now the manufacturing and suppliers are being tested by the customer in the field. The safety envelopes designed into the aircraft are protecting its customers, until lessons learned catches up with the 787. The confidence level "is shaken but not stirred". The only way to get to this point is through redundancy, preparation and execution. HoneyWell  immediately fell on its sward by offering to remove every affected 787 ELT part.  Every manufacturer supplying the 787 should have a 787 parts contingency plan even though that is probably the case. The aircraft will gracefully settle into its niche. A truly remarkable aircraft.