FAA To Require Checks Of All US Registered Boeing 787 Dreamliners

Boeing’s 787 program has received another setback with news the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a new airworthiness directive. To take effect in early May, the directive applies to all Boeing 787s registered in the United States. The directive deals with the threat of decompression panels disengaging on the aircraft type.

The FAA is extending an earlier airworthiness directive to now cover all US-registered 787 Dreamliners.
Photo: Boeing

The threat of decompression panels disengaging on Dreamliners

According to a FlightGlobal report, this airworthiness directive supplements a related directive issued in March. The FAA acted in response to reports of some decompression panels tearing in the 787’s bilge area.

Decompression panels separate the cargo area from the passenger area. They can open to act as pressure relief vents and allow a larger quantity of airflow into the cargo compartment. The concern is a leak in the bilge area could result in insufficient Halon concentrations to adequately control any fire in the aircraft’s cargo area. The airworthiness order will apply to all three models of the 787 Dreamliner operating in the United States.

In addition to several large aircraft leasing companies based there, big United States-based operators of Boeing’s 787 aircraft include American Airlines and United Airlines.

After overhauling quality control procedures, Boeing resumed delivering its 787s in March following a five-month break. In late March, a factory fresh 787-9 went to United Airlines. The pause in deliveries capped a tumultuous few years for the Dreamliner.

United Airlines is one of the US airlines impacted by this airworthiness directive. Photo: Boeing

Last September, inspections found problems with the 787’s vertical stabilizer or tail fin. At the time, that issue threatened to impact at least 680 of the 981 Dreamliners in service worldwide. Before inspections uncovered this problem, several production issues related to improperly sized shims and aircraft skin flatness specifications had been made public.

Around the same time, the FAA began zeroing in on the decompression panel problems, Boeing also found the cockpit windows on some Dreamliners may not be up to standard. This discovery came after the outsourced manufacturer of the windows changed its production process.

Last month, the FAA issued its first airworthiness directive concerning the 787’s decompression panels. That directive mandated repetitive visual inspection of the bilge barriers located in the forward and aft cargo compartments to look for disengaged or damaged decompression panels. Any disengaged panels were to be reinstalled. Damaged panels were to be replaced.  This first directive targeted around 220 Dreamliners. The FAA estimated that each inspection cycle would cost US$56,610.

Since then, the FAA has received fresh information that more 787 aircraft may have problems with their decompression panels. With this latest airworthiness directive, the FAA expands to inspections from a certain number of 787 Dreamliners to all 787 Dreamliners registered in the United States.

Boeing has experienced a litany of production problems with the 787 Dreamliner. Photo: Boeing

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Boeing notes no imminent safety threat posed, welcomes FAA directive

Boeing notes the flagged potential problems with the decompression panels do not pose an immediate safety hazard.

“Per our standard process, we proactively notified the FAA and our customers when we discovered this issue,” Boeing told Simple Flying when the FAA issued its earlier airworthiness directive.

“We determined then that this was not an immediate safety of flight issue, and that remains the determination. We recommended increased inspection and replacement of components as necessary, and we have worked on redesigning the part. Boeing fully supports the FAA’s Airworthiness Directive as the requirements are consistent with the guidance that we provided to 787 operators.”

What’s your opinion? Is the FAA right to expand compression panel inspections to cover all 787s registered in the United States? Post a comment and let us know.