787 Fire Source Identified
A malfunction in a single cell of a Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 787 lithium ion battery triggered the Jan. 7 fire in the airliner, which was parked at Boston Logan International Airport, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says.
“After an exhaustive examination of the JAL lithium ion battery, which was comprised of eight individual cells, investigators determined that the majority of evidence from the flight data recorder and both thermal and mechanical damage pointed to an initiating event in a single cell,” the NTSB said.
“That cell showed multiple signs of short circuiting, leading to a thermal runaway condition, which then cascaded to other cells. Charred battery components indicated that the temperature inside the battery case exceeded 500 degrees F [260 degrees C].”
The battery fire and other similar events, including a Jan. 16 in-flight incident on an All Nippon Airways 787, prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other civil aviation authorities to ground all 787s worldwide until Boeing can show that the batteries are safe.
The NTSB said potential causes of the battery fire in the JAL airplane had not been determined, but investigators were reviewing “the design and construction of the battery and the possibility of defects introduced during the manufacturing process.”
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said that Boeing had concluded during the 787’s certification process that “the likelihood of a smoke emission event from a 787 battery would occur less than once in every 10 million flight hours.”
However, the two critical battery events occurred with fewer than 100,000 flight hours, Hersman said, adding, “The failure rate was higher than predicted as part of the certification process and the possibility that a short circuit in a single cell could propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire must be reconsidered.”
Citing several incidents so far in 2013, the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, Rosaviatsiya, has issued a safety bulletin intended to prevent runway or taxiway excursions associated with snow- or ice-covered runways.
Aviation Safety Network reported five recent incidents in snow conditions in which passenger airplanes ran off runways or taxiways at Russian airports. Human factors and low runway friction coefficients were considered major factors in the incidents.
In the safety bulletin, the agency said that major airport operators should ensure friction coefficients are acceptable before airplanes are operated on runways and taxiways, and that airlines should tell their flight crews about runway and taxiway excursions and provide guidance for operations on snow- and ice-covered runways and taxiways.
Cabin Altitudes Rising
Peak cabin altitudes have gotten higher in recent years, increasing the likelihood that passengers with some heart and lung problems may need supplemental oxygen during flights, according to a study by medical personnel at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Physicians participating in the study carried mountaineering altimeters to measure peak cabin altitude during 207 domestic commercial flights in the United States from 2005 through 2011.
The average peak cabin altitude was 6,341 ft, which the physicians considered significantly higher than the average peak cabin altitude of 5,673 ft measured during a similar study published in 1988.
The 2013 study found that peak cabin altitudes on commercial airplanes generally were less than 8,000 ft, although on about 10 percent of flights, the measurement was more than 8,000 ft.
The study, published in the January issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, recommended that physicians consider the likely cabin altitude when determining a patient’s need for supplemental oxygen during a flight.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board ADS-B Deadline
Australian airlines and business jet operators have been given until December to equip their aircraft with automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B) equipment to allow for satellite-based aircraft tracking.
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has set Dec. 12 as the deadline for ADS-B equipment installation for “domestic and foreign operators of business jet and airline aircraft flying at and above FL 290 [Flight Level 290, or approximately 29,000 ft].”
CASA said that, according to an Airservices Australia estimate, more than 80 percent of Australian-registered aircraft operating at and above FL 290 are ready for ADS-B surveillance. Only 8 percent of Australian-registered business jet aircraft are equipped with ADS-B, however.
Aircraft that are not equipped with ADS-B by the December deadline will not be permitted to operate above FL 290, “resulting in less operational flexibility and the potential for delays due to the procedural separation standards that will be applied outside radar airspace,” CASA said.
Boeing, Embraer Developing Excursion Toolkit
Boeing and Embraer are working together to develop a set of Runway Situation Awareness Tools to reduce runway excursions, the two manufacturers announced. In the near-term, Boeing and Embraer will provide customers with new pilot procedures and a training video on landing performance. “In the longer term, the companies also will develop joint technology and systems for the flight deck to improve pilot information about approach and landing,” they said in a joint statement.
The new pilot procedures have been developed and are in the process of being disseminated, which is expected to be completed within the next few months, according to a Boeing executive. The training video also is expected to be released this year. As of mid-December, there were no specific timelines on the implementation of the flight deck technology and systems, although the technology design has been completed, according to Corky Townsend, director of aviation safety for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. She also said some, but not all, of the features will be available for retrofit on existing aircraft.
The two companies also said their broad strategy to reduce runway excursions could be used by pilots flying other commercial aircraft, “supporting overall industry safety.”
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has revised its plan for tackling major aviation safety risks, identifying 86 actions to be implemented by 2016.
The European Aviation Safety Plan (EASp) is intended to establish “a common focus for the entire European aviation community” and “a practical link between high-level safety issues and actions to be implemented by states, partner organisations, the aviation industry and EASA itself,” EASA said.
The agency said one recently completed initiative of the EASp was the European Action Plan for the Prevention of Runway Excursions — a product of the efforts of a number of aviation industry organizations.
The action plan includes a series of recommendations to aircraft operators, air navigation service providers, airports and regulatory authorities.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), one of the organizations involved in the plan’s development, said that in 2011, 13 percent of all accidents in European airspace were runway excursions, compared with 19 percent worldwide.
“The action plan is the latest element in our global effort, complementing the Runway Excursion Risk Reduction Toolkit, which was revised in 2011,” said Guenther Matschnigg, IATA senior vice president for safety, operations and infrastructure. “Together they build a common awareness of the issue among the key players, and that will allow us to continue to reduce the risks and the occurrences.”
The action plan “ensures that all the players in Europe are aligned and focused on a common set of tools to improve runway safety,” Matschnigg added. “Along with making European aviation even safer, it sets a good example of cooperation that could be taken up in other regions.”
Wider SMS Use Urged
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has produced a video to encourage small commuter and air taxi operators to adopt safety management systems (SMS) to help identify hazards, assess risks and develop mitigation strategies.
Larger operators have been required since 2005 to have an SMS in place.
Bryce Fisher of TSB said in the video that 91 percent of commercial aviation accidents in Canada and 93 percent of the resulting fatalities involve commuter and air taxi operations.
Many of these operations are associated with flights to remote areas with limited infrastructure, older aircraft with less sophisticated navigational warning systems, and crews with less experience, in comparison with larger operations.
“SMS is a tool that can help small operators find trouble before trouble finds them,” Fisher said, noting that Transport Canada is considering making SMS mandatory for these operators and the TSB hopes that “they’ll get a head start and begin to integrate SMS into their day-to-day operations.”
The TSB added, “An effective safety management system can help reduce accidents and save lives.”
Pilot Rest Rules Challenged
The labor union representing pilots for cargo carrier UPS is challenging the U.S. government’s exclusion of cargo pilots from duty and rest rules that will apply to pilots of passenger aircraft and has produced a benefit cost analysis (BCA) that it says “demonstrates the value of including cargo pilots in the new rule.”
The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) offered the BCA as an alternative to an analysis issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in support of its decision not to extend the rules to cargo pilots.
The IPA said its analysis found that the FAA “substantially overstated the costs and understated the benefits” of including both passenger and cargo pilots under the rules, which will take effect in 2014.
The IPA’s comments were submitted in response to the FAA’s supplemental regulatory impact analysis on the cargo pilot exclusion.
The FAA issued revised flight and rest requirements for pilots of commercial passenger airliners in January 2012, about 15 years after an earlier effort at rule-making had collapsed, primarily because of airline opposition. The IPA filed suit, asking a federal appeals court to extend the rules to cargo pilots. The court case is pending.
Under the rule, the passenger airline pilots will be required to have at least a 10-hour rest period before reporting for duty — two hours longer than now required. In addition, the limit on flight time will be eight or nine hours, and the limit on duty time will be between nine and 14 hours, depending on a number of factors, including the pilot’s starting time.
More Help Urged for Small Carriers
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not provided enough assistance to smaller air carriers that must meet new safety standards and has not followed through on plans to help the carriers develop safety programs, a government watchdog agency says.
The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a January report that 12 percent of small carriers — those with 15 aircraft or fewer — have flight data monitoring programs to track aircraft crew performance. In comparison, more than 90 percent of large carriers have implemented these programs.
“Until FAA takes a more focused approach, working with and assisting smaller carriers, the full safety benefits associated with these programs will not be realized,” the OIG report said.
The flight data monitoring programs were required under legislation passed by Congress in 2010, in the aftermath of the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 during approach to Buffalo Niagara (New York, U.S.) International Airport. All 49 people in the airplane and one person on the ground were killed in the accident and the airplane was destroyed.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause of the accident was the captain’s “inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover.”
The OIG report credited the FAA with prompt attention to many elements of the legislation, including voluntary safety programs, pilot rest requirements and risk management. However, the agency has encountered industry opposition and delays in several areas, including the development of small carrier safety programs and rules on pilot qualification and training, the report said.
In Other News …
Data compiled by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show that there were no fatalities resulting from airline crashes in 2011 and that air taxi fatalities increased to 41, up from 17 in 2010. About 90 percent of the 494 deaths in aviation in 2011 involved fatalities in general aviation. … The International Civil Aviation Organization and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation have signed an agreement intended to improve the exchange of air navigation safety information between the two organizations. … The Performance Review Body of the Single European Sky has developed an online interactive tool to show actual performance and performance goals. The e-Dashboard is available at prudata.webfactional.com/Dashboard/eur_view.html.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.