The NTSB wants the FAA to begin convening a panel of “independent technical experts” to advise the agency how to certify the safety of certain new technologies for new or existing aircraft. 

The action, one of five recommendations the NTSB assigned to the FAA on May 22, comes as the NTSB nears its final report on the Jan. 2013 lithium-ion battery failure on a Japan Airlines 787 on the ground in Boston. Other recommendations include developing worst case testing protocols for lithium-ion batteries and determining the safety of other as-approved lithium-ion batteries in the fleet using the new protocols.

Batteries aside, the NTSB is probing the larger question of how the FAA can safely bring new technologies to commercial aircraft, given its limited resources and expertise. “New, first-of-a-kind technology can offer substantial improvements in operational efficiency, capabilities and/or safety,” the NTSB said, “and its safe introduction into the aviation system is a key objective of the aircraft certification process.”

In the case of the 787 battery, which represented the first large, high-power lithium-ion batteries to be certified on commercial aircraft, the FAA certification staff “relied primarily on Boeing’s expertise and knowledge to define the necessary tests and analyses for certification (of the battery design),” the NTSB said. 

While reliance on Boeing, as the manufacturer, was “necessary”, expertise outside the aviation industry could have “further strengthened the certification process”, the NTSB said, noting that the Department of Energy had been researching large li-ion batteries since 2000.“If the FAA had reached out to these or other experts working on large-scale lithium-ion batteries to tap their knowledge, it is possible that the FAA could have recognized that the 787 methods of compliance were insufficient to appropriately evaluate (the risks),” the NTSB said.