Boeing 787 Plans Approved
Boeing’s certification plan for the redesigned battery system on its 787 has been approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — the first step in returning the airplane to flight.
Boeing next will conduct testing and analysis to demonstrate that the battery system complies with applicable safety regulations.
“This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”
The FAA grounded all U.S.-registered 787s in January after an in-flight battery problem on an All Nippon Airways domestic flight in Japan. Other civil aviation authorities around the world immediately took similar action.
Boeing subsequently redesigned the internal battery components “to minimize initiation of a short circuit within the battery,” the FAA said. Other changes included improved insulation of battery cells and the addition of a containment and venting system.
Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the company’s planned changes will “significantly minimize the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane.”
The FAA approved plans calling for limited test flights involving two 787s that will be equipped with the prototype versions of the new containment system.
The FAA said its final approval depends on whether Boeing “successfully completes all required tests and analysis to demonstrate the new design complies with FAA requirements.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta added that the plan approved by the agency “includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign.”
War Against the Wind
European scientists are developing a new system to identify turbulence and wind gusts before an aircraft flies into them.
EADS Innovation Works says its scientists are using lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors, which use light to identify obstacles and measure their distance.
“The lidar sensor … radiates ultraviolet (UV) light pulses, typically at a rate of 60 per second, which are scattered by the nitrogen and oxygen molecules present in the air,” EADS said. “In this way, a total of four rays measure the motion vector of the air 50 to 200 m [164 to 656 ft] in front of the aircraft’s nose.
“Any turbulence that may be present alters the motion profile of the molecules and thus the signature received by the system.”
The system might eventually also be used to measure wake vortices and aid in determining the correct separation between aircraft during takeoff and landing, EADS said.
Nikolaus Schmitt of EADS Innovation Works said that the lidar system could be used to send data to an airplane’s flight control computer “so the aircraft can automatically react” by actuating wing control surfaces.
“What our lidar sees is at most a second ahead,” Schmitt said. “That’s long enough for a machine but not for the human brain. But our measurement of the airflow at that distance in front of the aircraft is extremely accurate, so the aircraft really will be able to automatically react to a vertical or horizontal draft on the basis of our advance information.”
The system is currently being tested, and some tests were conducted in flight on an Airbus A340. Schmitt says the system might be ready for production in about 10 years.
R44 Fuel Tanks
Operators of Robinson R44s are being urged to equip the helicopters with modified bladder fuel tanks designed to reduce the risk of post-accident fires.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA) has sent letters to all R44 operators to point out a revised Robinson service bulletin that calls for installation of the modified fuel tanks by April.
A CASA airworthiness bulletin “strongly recommends” that the operators comply with the service bulletin at their “earliest opportunity.”
CASA noted several recent accidents and incidents involving post-crash fires on R44s with rigid aluminum fuel tanks.
UAS Site Proposals Wanted
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking for proposals for the development of six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites across the country.
The FAA’s request calls on state and local governments, universities and other public entities to submit their proposals for site development.
“The expanded use of UAS represents a major next step in aviation innovation and will present economic opportunities both for the communities that are selected for this pilot program and for the aerospace industry in general,” the FAA said.
The FAA’s evaluation of the submitted proposals will examine their geographic and climatic diversity, ground infrastructure, research needs, population density and air traffic density, and the proposed objectives.
“We expect to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The test sites will also inform the agency as we develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air traffic requirements.”
The agency also requested public comments on FAA efforts to ensure that individual privacy is appropriately protected while the pilot programs are in operation. Privacy requirements will be included in formal agreements between the designated test sites and the FAA.
New ICAO Annex on Safety
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has adopted a new Safety Management Annex — its first new annex to the Chicago Convention of International Civil Aviation in more than 30 years.
Annex 19 is intended to support ICAO’s “global safety strategy, which calls for improved standardization, increased collaboration among aviation stakeholders, new information sharing initiatives and prioritization of investments in technical and human resources required to ensure safe operations in the future,” ICAO said.
The ICAO annexes contain the standards and recommended practices that provide the framework for the international air transport system. Annex 19 encompasses provisions regarding state safety programs and safety management systems. The annex was developed over the past three years by ICAO, the ICAO member states and key international aviation organizations.
Adoption of Annex 19 coincided with ICAO’s announcement of accident data that showed 2012 was one of the safest years ever for global aviation. The data showed that there were 99 accidents in about 31 million flights in 2012 — or about 3.2 accidents per million departures. Aviation fatalities in 2012 numbered 372, compared with 414 in 2011. The 2012 figure was the lowest since 2004, ICAO said. The data were submitted by the 191 ICAO member states and include aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of 2,250 kg (4,960 lb) or more.
End-Cap Fatigue Cracks
The manufacturer of the Beechcraft 1900D should take action to inspect nose landing gear end caps for fatigue cracking and replace those at risk, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says.
In issuing safety recommendations to the Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (now known as Beechcraft), the NTSB cited its investigations of several recent incidents involving 1900Ds, including the May 17, 2011, collapse of the left main landing gear on a 1900D during landing at Denver International Airport. The airplane sustained minor damage, but no one was injured in the incident.
The NTSB said the probable cause was the fatigue failure of the nose landing gear end cap, “which resulted in insufficient hydraulic pressure to secure the left [main landing gear] into the down-and-locked position.”
The NTSB’s examination of the fractured end cap and of a second end cap provided by Beechcraft showed that both end caps had failed because of fatigue “from multiple origins that initiated in the machined inner diameter and propagated outward toward the cap’s exterior.”
The end cap on the incident airplane had accumulated 29,533 cycles since manufacture, the NTSB said. The board noted that an inspection conducted during a 2008 overhaul, 4,585 cycles before the incident, found no discrepancies.
Beechcraft changed its recommended maintenance practices in 2010 and 2011, as a result of preliminary incident findings and earlier end cap fractures, the NTSB said, noting that the company currently recommends a repetitive ultrasonic inspection every 1,200 cycles beginning at 8,000 cycles, and an overhaul every 10,000 cycles.
The NTSB recommendations called on Beechcraft to determine the fatigue life of the nose landing gear end cap, develop a replacement program based on the fatigue life determination, and revise the repetitive inspection procedure and time interval “to ensure that fatigue cracks are detected prior to failure.”
Warning on Large Height Deviations
Pilots of flights in oceanic airspace must be aware of the potential effects on safety of large height deviations (LHDs) — deviations of 300 ft or more from the cleared flight level, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says.
In Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 13004, the FAA said that LHDs are the most common pilot errors.
“The evaluation of oceanic error reports shows LHDs present a potential hazard to continuous operational safety in the airspace,” the SAFO said. “These deviations have caused some oceanic airspace to surpass the established target level of safety and resulted in an elevated vertical risk.”
Common causes of LHDs include air traffic control (ATC) coordination errors; pilot deviations, “including improper execution of pilot contingency procedures”; and turbulence encounters, the document added.
The SAFO said data show that most crew-related errors involve misinterpretation or misapplication of conditional clearances typically used in allowing flight crews to fly to more efficient altitudes.
“Flight crews must be trained to utilize procedures that ensure that all ATC clearances are complied with correctly, particularly clearances with en route restrictions such as changing flight levels based on a coordinated time or a specific geographic position,” the document said.
In Other News …
Patrick Ky, the executive director of the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking, has been named to succeed Patrick Goudou as executive director of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Goudou has held the position since EASA was established in 2003. … New regulations in Australia will upgrade flight crew licensing and training requirements. The regulations, which will take effect in December, will give pilots four years to convert their licenses to the new Part 61 Civil Aviation Safety Regulations. … The Performance Review Body of the Single European Sky has produced an online Performance Dashboard to show actual and targeted air navigation services performance data.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.