In the aftermath of a July 12 fire in a parked Boeing 787 at London Heathrow Airport, aircraft operators have been told to inspect emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) on all 787s.
In the days immediately following the fire, Boeing had developed instructions for operators to check for “proper wire routing and any signs of wire damage or pinching, as well as inspect the battery compartment for unusual signs of heating or moisture.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in an airworthiness directive (AD) aimed at U.S. operators of 787s, said in late July that fixed ELTs manufactured by Honeywell must be removed or inspected, according to Boeing’s instructions, and, if necessary, corrective action must be performed. The FAA said the AD should be considered an interim action and that additional orders may eventually be issued.
The FAA, unlike civil aviation authorities in some other countries, does not require ELTs to be installed in 787s and other large commercial aircraft. The European Aviation Safety Agency said after the release of the FAA’s AD that it would allow operation of a 787 without an ELT for up to 90 days, “in accordance with an updated MMEL [master minimum equipment list].”
The U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said, in a preliminary report, that the fire had occurred after a flight to London from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and after ground power had been turned off. About 10 hours after the airplane’s arrival at Heathrow, smoke was reported in the airplane. Firefighters were called to extinguish the fire.
A subsequent examination of the ELT revealed indications of “disruption to the battery cells,” the report said, adding that it was “unclear … whether the combustion in the area of the ELT was initiated by a release of energy within the batteries or by an external mechanism such as an electrical short.”
The AAIB said that although thermal events involving this type of ELT have been “extremely rare,” large transport airplanes typically “do not … carry the means of fire detection or suppression in the space above the cabin ceilings, and had this event occurred in flight, it could pose a significant safety concern and raise challenges for the cabin crew in tackling the resulting fire.”
The agency recommended that the FAA and other civil aviation authorities “conduct a safety review of installations of lithium-powered [ELT] systems in other aircraft types and, where appropriate, initiate airworthiness action.” A second recommendation had called on the FAA to make inert the ELT systems “until appropriate airworthiness actions can be completed.”
Boeing characterized those recommendations as “reasonable precautionary measures to take as the investigation proceeds.”
The 787s, which began flying in late 2011, were grounded for about three months early this year after two events in January involving fires in the airplane’s lithium-ion batteries. In late April, modifications were ordered in the battery systems, and as the work was completed, the airplanes began returning to service.
In a move described as “a new step in [its] continuing close cooperation with other international investigation agencies,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has asked the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) to review ATSB investigative processes.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said he requested that the TSB conduct the review “because we are always looking to improve our investigation systems and approaches.”
TSB Chair Wendy Tadros said the review is “another example of positive collaboration with our international partners. We will provide an objective assessment of their process, and, in turn, we can learn best practices about their investigation techniques. It’s a win-win exercise.”
The review team will compare TSB investigation methods with those used by the ATSB and with international standards.
“The review will identify best practices from both organisations that we can adopt to improve how we investigate accidents and occurrences and improve transport safety,” Dolan said. “The TSB is well placed to conduct this review as they have a similar legislative framework to the ATSB and a long-standing commitment to systemic investigation to improve safety.”
The TSB is expected to publish its final report in 2014. The document will be available on the TSB website.
Hiring requirements for first officers at U.S. airlines have become more stringent, with the publication in July of a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule calling for new first officers, with some exceptions, to hold an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires them to have at least 1,500 flight hours.
The new rule also requires first officers to be at least 23 years old and to have aircraft type ratings for the airplanes they fly. Exceptions allow first officers with fewer than 1,500 flight hours if they are military pilots with 750 hours, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in aviation and 1,000 flight hours, or graduates of an associate’s degree program with an aviation major and 1,200 hours.
Previous rules required first officers to possess a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time.
“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, noting that advocates of the rules change include families of passengers killed in the 2009 crash of a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 near Buffalo, New York.
Battery Cargo Rules
Pilots should expect to see an increase in the number of lithium battery cargo shipments listed on notification forms as a result of new rules issued earlier this year by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), according to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA).
The rules, which affect international shipments of lithium batteries, were included in Packaging Instruction 965 of the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.
“Pilots should be aware that the inclusion of these declarations on pilot notification forms does not necessarily indicate an increased number of shipments of lithium batteries,” IFALPA said. “Rather, the declarations are evidence that enhanced safety measures have been taken by shippers and airlines, which includes informing flight crewmembers of the presence of these shipments on the aircraft. Awareness of this critical information will allow pilots and emergency personnel to more effectively respond to an on-board emergency.”
The ICAO instructions extended several existing dangerous goods provisions to previously exempted items, including large shipments of lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries.
The requirements call for documenting the shipments on pilot notification forms; marking packages with hazard labels; ensuring that shippers are trained in packaging, labeling and handling; and performing acceptance checks and inspections before loading and after unloading.
The European Commission plans to spend €600 million to find ways of relieving congestion in Europe’s airspace. The funds will be spent to develop some of the technology needed to develop the Single European Sky — an airspace overhaul expected to double capacity.
“Europe’s skies and airports risk saturation,” said European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. “If we leave things as they are, we will be confronted with heavy congestion and chaos in our airspace. … Increased congestion brings with it increased safety risk as well as delays and real economic costs.”
The European Commission’s investment will be directed toward developing the technologies to allow airlines to choose their preferred, more direct routes; integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the air traffic management system; and improving traffic management, in the air and on the ground.
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 sits on a runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport after a hard landing July 22. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the airplane touched down nose-first, collapsing the nose landing gear and driving it into the electronics bay. Nine of the 145 passengers and crewmembers received minor injuries during the evacuation. The NTSB says its preliminary investigation found no pre-existing “mechanical anomalies or malfunctions.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $2.75 million civil penalty against Boeing “for allegedly failing to maintain its quality control system in accordance with approved FAA procedures.”
The FAA cited Boeing’s September 2008 discovery that nonconforming fasteners had been installed on some 777s. The FAA says that Boeing “repeatedly submitted action plans that set deadlines for the accomplishment of certain corrective actions but subsequently failed to implement those plans.”
The FAA said that Boeing implemented a plan to address the fastener issue in November 2010.
“Manufacturers must make it a priority to identify and correct quality problems in a timely manner,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.
Boeing has 30 days to respond after it receives the civil penalty letter.
All regular public transport maintenance organizations in Australia have met the deadline for transitioning to new maintenance regulations developed to “place a clearer focus on safety outcomes at all times,” John McCormick, director of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), says.
He says the new regulations, more closely aligned with those of many other nations, also are intended to provide the aviation industry with increased flexibility to respond to future technological developments.
The transition involved 28 air operators and 117 maintenance organizations operating under Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 42, which details continuing airworthiness requirements for regular public transport operators, and Part 145, which covers approved maintenance organizations.
In Other News …
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has opened a regional sub-office — the first such office in ICAO history — in Beijing to work toward improving air traffic management in the Asia/Pacific region. … The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking public comments on its plans to begin collecting operational data from air ambulance operators. The comment period ends Sept. 30; a new law requires the FAA to summarize the data and report to Congress in February 2014. … The European Commission has updated its blacklist of airlines prohibited from operating in the European Union (EU), removing two operators — Philippine Airlines and Conviasa of Venezuela — from the list and allowing them to resume EU operations.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.