Boeing faces uncertain timeline with FAA, NTSB probes of 787 ‘Dreamliner’

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) grounding of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” airplane could keep the plane out of service for some time.

The FAA has prohibited U.S. airlines from flying the 787 for almost two weeks after a pair of battery failures, including one that sparked an electrical fire on one of  the aircrafts.

The agency said Friday it did not have a time frame for the conclusion of its investigation into the “airworthiness” of the Boeing airplane.

Similarly, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that it just getting started with its separate investigation into the 787’s battery defects.

“There are a number of activities that we have planned,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said during a news conference this week, noting that one particular test of the 787’s battery could take up to a week to complete.

“We are going to continue to move forward with those as expeditiously as possible, but this is not something we are expecting will be solved overnight,” Hersman continued. “There is a lot of technical work and a lot of complex work to understand.”

The NTSB said that its early findings have shown that the defective batteries displayed signs of accelerated temperature increases known as “thermal runaway” and short-circuiting. Thermal runaway is a scientific term for a situation where a temperature increase in a device spurs other temperature increases, which leads to a uncontrollable cycle that could end in an explosion.

The NTSB said the 787 batteries did not show signs of overcharging.

Boeing has said publicly that it supports the federal investigations into the 787, and the company has said that it is doing its part to get the airplane back into the sky.

“The company has formed teams consisting of hundreds of engineering and technical experts who are working around the clock with the sole focus of resolving the issue and returning the 787 fleet to flight status,” Boeing said in a statement.

“We are working this issue tirelessly in cooperation with our customers and the appropriate regulatory and investigative authorities,” Boeing's statement continued. “The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority.”

Critics in the aviation industry have suggested the decision to ground the 787 was an overreaction because problems are typical with new airplane models.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has defended the FAA's intervention, however, arguing that the agency was acting in the interest of airline passengers.

“Our job at DOT is to ensure the safety of the flying public, and that's what we're doing,” LaHood said in a recent speech to the Washington Aero Club.

“We need to get to the bottom of the recent issues with the batteries in the 787 and ensure their safety before these aircraft can be put back in service,” LaHood said at another point in his speech. “Our goal is to get this done as quickly as possible, but we must be confident that the problems are corrected before we can move forward.”

Hersman said she agreed the problems that have been experienced by the 787 are a “very serious air safety concern.”

However, she stressed that the fate of the 787's flight status would not be decided by her.

“The NTSB's job is to investigate events,” Hersman said during her news conference. “It is the FAA's job to determine whether or not aircraft are safe to fly.

“We respect the FAA's decision,” Hersman continued, nothing that grounding the airplanes was a “very difficult” conclusion for the agency to reach.