Rebukes Fired Engineer's Claims To Contrary
The 787 is safe... or, at least, as
safe as conventional airliners... and Boeing's methods for testing
that claim are adequate. That is the summary of the FAA's response
to assertions made last month by a former Boeing engineer, who
claimed the composite-bodied airliner's structure could splinter
and burn in a severe crash, causing passenger fatalities in an
accident that could be survivable in an aluminum-bodied plane.
The Seattle Times reports the FAA summarized two criticisms of
its certification standards for the 787, in a report published in
the Federal Register last week. One was in direct response to
claims made by Vince Weldon, a 46-year Boeing employee and manager
at the planemaker's Phantom Works unit, claiming the Dreamliner's
carbon-fiber shell posed new risks to passengers.
In an 11-page letter to the FAA, Weldon called on the FAA to
conduct crashworthiness tests on the 787 directly, instead of
supervising Boeing as the planemaker conducted the tests.
"We consider it more effective to establish the standards and
encourage (Boeing) to develop the most effective method of
compliance," the FAA replied last week.
As ANN reported, Weldon went
public with his claims last month -- even appearing on former CBS
anchor Dan Rather's show on HDNet, a move some analysts say didn't
exactly help his case, given the stigma of the circumstances
surrounding the veteran newsman's departure from the Tiffany
Also casting doubt on Weldon's claims are the circumstances
surrounding the engineer's departure from Boeing. Weldon says he
was fired after arguing the 787 needed stiffer tests; the
planemaker says the engineer was fired for threatening an
Weldon also asked the FAA to consider performing a detailed drop
test of a 787 fuselage segment, similar to a test performed in 2000
for the 737NG cert. In that test, a full section -- complete with
interior fittings, including storage bins, and instrumented test
dummies -- was dropped onto a concrete slab.
Tests conducted for the Dreamliner have, to date, utilized the
lower half of a 787 fuselage barrel section. Those tests subjected
the partial airframe to slow crushing, as well as ramming with a
A third test dropped the 787 fuselage segment onto a steel plate
from roughly 15 feet, according to the Times. Boeing states those
tests have yielded enough data to validate the planemaker's
computer models to simulate crashes... and the FAA apparently
"While there are merits in conducting a full-scale test, there
are other approaches using tests and analysis that can actually
yield more data than would a single test," the FAA said regarding
current test procedures for the 787.
Barring delays, the first 787-8 is scheduled to enter service
with All Nippon Airways in mid-2008.