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B787 O2 supply

Old 6th Nov 2019, 00:05
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B787 O2 supply

Boeing whistleblower raises doubts over 787 oxygen system

By Theo Leggett Business correspondent, BBC Newscopyright BoeingA Boeing whistleblower has claimed that passengers flying on board the company's 787 Dreamliner could be left without life-saving oxygen if the cabin were to suffer a sudden decompression.

John Barnett, a former quality control engineer at the company, says he organised tests which suggested that up to a quarter of the oxygen systems used on the aircraft could be faulty and might not operate when needed.


https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50293927
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 00:24
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Originally Posted by Longtimer
Boeing whistleblower raises doubts over 787 oxygen system

By Theo Leggett Business correspondent, BBC Newscopyright BoeingA Boeing whistleblower has claimed that passengers flying on board the company's 787 Dreamliner could be left without life-saving oxygen if the cabin were to suffer a sudden decompression.

John Barnett, a former quality control engineer at the company, says he organised tests which suggested that up to a quarter of the oxygen systems used on the aircraft could be faulty and might not operate when needed.


https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50293927
The story repeatedly refers to "oxygen bottles" for the pax O2 systems. Does the 787 not have O2 generators for the pax system? Or is the reference just the result of confusion on the part of the reporter and editors?
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 00:42
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Nope, 787 uses O2 bottles both for flight deck and cabin oxygen systems. Each 3 seat group shares one oxygen bottle in the bulkhead overhead, fired by a pyrotechnic valve when operated. These valves, by definition single use, can not be tested, and are the source of failures.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 03:59
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Originally Posted by Flight Alloy
Nope, 787 uses O2 bottles both for flight deck and cabin oxygen systems. Each 3 seat group shares one oxygen bottle in the bulkhead overhead, fired by a pyrotechnic valve when operated. These valves, by definition single use, can not be tested, and are the source of failures.
Presumably a number of bottles from each batch are destructively tested to confirm - at least statistically - that they work?
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 05:07
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Indeed they were, as per the article, and 25% were shown to fail. A problem which the whistleblower reported to the FAA after Boeing didn't do anything about it. And neither did the FAA. The plot thickens.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 06:55
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Originally Posted by Flight Alloy
787 uses O2 bottles both (....) , fired by a pyrotechnic valve when operated. These valves,(...) are the source of failures.
A very good combination of words in one sentence. A prone to failure pyrotechnic device to open a bottle of Oxygen in an aircraft ?
Is this for real ?
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 07:18
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Originally Posted by Flight Alloy
Nope, 787 uses O2 bottles both for flight deck and cabin oxygen systems. Each 3 seat group shares one oxygen bottle in the bulkhead overhead, fired by a pyrotechnic valve when operated. These valves, by definition single use, can not be tested, and are the source of failures.
O2 bottles triggered by faulty pyrotechnic devices. What could possibly go wrong?
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 08:53
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Originally Posted by double_barrel
O2 bottles triggered by faulty pyrotechnic devices. What could possibly go wrong?
the valves are triggered by pyrotechnics. not the bottles.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 10:12
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It's decades since worked with an airliner - VC10 in the RAF. But IIRC a functional check of all the passenger oxygen masks was an item of a periodic maintenance schedule. I assume that I still so with modern airliners? In which case, I would expect the airlines to be concerned at a high incidence of failure (25%) and to raise the issue with Boeing and the CAA / FAA. So it would not have needed a whistleblower to raise concern effectively. I can't see that the story adds up. That said, I accept that I am a long time away from the aircraft maintenance scene.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 12:11
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The pyrotechnically activated O2 bottles would have a certified lifetime beyond which they need replaced, but they evidently wouldn't be tested in the mean time as they are single use by design. There are several far more dangerous pyrotechnic agents on board passenger aircraft - none of those ever caused a problem to my knowledge - such as flares in the survival kit, and some escape slides/rafts have chemical agents to inflate them. I wouldn't get too excited about the activation mode of the bottles. But the failure rate and subsequent cover up by Boeing management AND the regulator, well, that is an entirely different story!
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 12:53
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Originally Posted by kiwibrit
It's decades since worked with an airliner - VC10 in the RAF. But IIRC a functional check of all the passenger oxygen masks was an item of a periodic maintenance schedule. I assume that I still so with modern airliners? In which case, I would expect the airlines to be concerned at a high incidence of failure (25%) and to raise the issue with Boeing and the CAA / FAA. So it would not have needed a whistleblower to raise concern effectively. I can't see that the story adds up. That said, I accept that I am a long time away from the aircraft maintenance scene.
No system based on single use chemical oxygen generators or pyrotechnic valves will undergo a 'functional check', meaning an actual check of delivering oxygen in an emergency situation. By functional check they mean the mask is still in one piece, not dried out, the bulkhead hinge opens, and the hoses haven't fallen off. This does not constitute a 'functional check', if so, every test would require a full replacement of the whole SINGLE USE emergency oxygen system, certainly a multi million dollar cost item. That is the reason they are NEVER tested. Also, how often do airlines suffer depressurization with extended high altitude flight, where some failed masks would result in detectable injury to passengers? Luckily very rarely, as most incidents result in immediate expeditious descent to breathable atmosphere, where in such an event a lack of functioning mask would almost be undetectable and its use practically unnecessary, but there are regimes of flight where an emergency descent would be impossible for extended periods, like most of the Chinese highlands. And you're still surprised Boeing would under-report a major safety issue, after MCAS, 777X doors, pickle forks, trim wheel etc etc. ad nauseum? Really get ahold of yourself.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 14:38
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Originally Posted by Flight Alloy
Nope, 787 uses O2 bottles both for flight deck and cabin oxygen systems. Each 3 seat group shares one oxygen bottle in the bulkhead overhead, fired by a pyrotechnic valve when operated. These valves, by definition single use, can not be tested, and are the source of failures.
Thanks for the information.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 14:45
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Also, how often do airlines suffer depressurization with extended high altitude flight, where some failed masks would result in detectable injury to passengers? Luckily very rarely, as most incidents result in immediate expeditious descent to breathable atmosphere, where in such an event a lack of functioning mask would almost be undetectable and its use practically unnecessary
Why bother to have slides? Or any other emergency equipment for 'rare events'? Would you care to tell us the duration of consciousness in the case of sudden depressurisation in the cruise for a healthy adult? And would you care to postulate on how long an elderly patient with heart disease would survive? And compare it with the time needed for an emergency descent to 10,000 feet?

Not sure I would be happy without oxygen. Must pick one of the 75% of seats that has working oxygen. Ryannair would probably be charging a premium for them if they operated them
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 15:02
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Originally Posted by Radgirl
Why bother to have slides? Or any other emergency equipment for 'rare events'? Would you care to tell us the duration of consciousness in the case of sudden depressurisation in the cruise for a healthy adult? And would you care to postulate on how long an elderly patient with heart disease would survive? And compare it with the time needed for an emergency descent to 10,000 feet?

Not sure I would be happy without oxygen. Must pick one of the 75% of seats that has working oxygen. Ryannair would probably be charging a premium for them if they operated them
Time of useful consciousness at FL400: 15-20 seconds. Probably less than that for me, with significant heart disease in my old age.

Emergency descent from FL400 to 10,000 ft: A lot longer.

Flight Alloy:
Also, how often do airlines suffer depressurization with extended high altitude flight, where some failed masks would result in detectable injury to passengers?
Probably good to note that the "detectable injuries" to pax with non-functioning masks would likely range from significant permanent brain damage to death. Always important to consider when establishing risk factors.

Last edited by OldnGrounded; 6th Nov 2019 at 15:21.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 15:35
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Originally Posted by OldnGrounded
Time of useful consciousness at FL400: 15-20 seconds. Probably less than that for me, with significant heart disease in my old age.
Emergency descent from FL400 to 10,000 ft: A lot longer.
Probably good to note that the "detectable injuries" to pax with non-functioning masks would likely range from significant permanent brain damage to death. Always important to consider when establishing risk factors.
Not a medic but I think the critical part is from 400 to 300 , at 4000 ft/min (typical emergency descent on most types) say 2- 3 min deprivation ; like a long underwater scuba dive ., brain damage ?
But from 30.000ft you get back a bit of oxygen , there are lots of people that climb the Himalayas without oxygen and they do not suffer brain damage.
But again I am not a brain specialist..
I just remember a decompression on a Spantax DC8 over the Netherlands from FL33 or 370 where half the O2 masks did bot deploy because stuck by nicotine tar .. Diverted to AMS. .. Nobody was injured, shocked yes, but most of the pax continued a few hours later to the Canaries...

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Old 6th Nov 2019, 16:17
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Originally Posted by ATC Watcher
Not a medic but I think the critical part is from 400 to 300 , at 4000 ft/min (typical emergency descent on most types) say 2- 3 min deprivation ; like a long underwater scuba dive ., brain damage ?
But from 30.000ft you get back a bit of oxygen , there are lots of people that climb the Himalayas without oxygen and they do not suffer brain damage.
But again I am not a brain specialist..
I just remember a decompression on a Spantax DC8 over the Netherlands from FL33 or 370 where half the O2 masks did bot deploy because stuck by nicotine tar .. Diverted to AMS. .. Nobody was injured, shocked yes, but most of the pax continued a few hours later to the Canaries...
Humans are variable creatures, of course, but three minutes is the generally-accepted period after which hypoxic/anoxic brain damage is of serious concern. The FAA tables show TUC at FL300, with rapid decompression, as 30-60 seconds:

https://www.faa.gov/pilots/training/...%2061-107A.pdf

Of course, that doesn't mean brain damage at that limit, but it does mean that few will be able to don those masks if they don't do so very quickly.

I don't mean to suggest that serious or permanent injury is guaranteed, just that it's far too serious a risk to discount. You really, really want all the pax O2 systems to work when the cabin undergoes rapid decompression.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 16:30
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Thanks for the tech briefing, including why the O2 supply is not tested, Flight Alloy. I think that the RAF VC10 C Mk1s I worked with in the late 60s had a manifold supply to the passenger emergency masks. Thereafter my aircraft experience was with military non passenger aircraft. I shall now retire back into my cave!
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 16:49
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I would prefer that my cockpit crew test their oxygen supply to assure it works.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 17:04
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Originally Posted by Radgirl
Why bother to have slides? Or any other emergency equipment for 'rare events'? Would you care to tell us the duration of consciousness in the case of sudden depressurisation in the cruise for a healthy adult? And would you care to postulate on how long an elderly patient with heart disease would survive? And compare it with the time needed for an emergency descent to 10,000 feet?

Not sure I would be happy without oxygen. Must pick one of the 75% of seats that has working oxygen. Ryannair would probably be charging a premium for them if they operated them
Oh I think you misunderstood my intention with that statement. I just wanted to illustrate why deleterious effects from non functioning O2 masks seam quite rare, and why airlines aren't 'up in arms' because of possible faulty equipment, because (luckily) flight regimes where masks save lives are quite rare, but still occur (any time you're flying over mountains basically). I certainly advocate for plenty of emergency equipment, I was just highlighting why we might not have seen many injuries related to these failures, specifically because most depressurizations occur in regimes where quick emergency descent is possible, so even not using a mask should not cause serious injury. Unfortunately it is almost always media pressure and 'learning from mistakes' that drive (aviation) improvements, and not an inherent drive for safety from the airlines, so presumably they would only insist on improvements if incidents were to occur with more frequency.
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Old 6th Nov 2019, 17:18
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Here is a link to the original STORY written by Gerald Eastman on his blog 'The Last Inspector' more than 1,5 years ago. The guy was a quality inspector for Boeing for many years and chronicles his battle for transparency and safety against the corporate machine of rushing jobs for profit. His blog is full of stories of his own and other colleagues experiences at both Boeing factories about corners cut, non conforming parts liberated from scrap cages and installed into production airframes to maintain production, and the pressures of management to bury any safety concerns and maintain tempo. He also goes into the complacency for the FAA in responding to whistleblower complaints and how the system worked to punish anyone with an ounce of integrity. Do head over and read if interested in the internal goings on by someone experienced in the business! Here's the main blog too for reference: The Last Inspector
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