FAA Orders 787 Cargo Hold Panel Replacements

United Airlines 787
Credit: Sean Broderick / AWST

The U.S. FAA is giving operators three years to replace decompression panels on certain Boeing 787s, changing the original draft order to limit the affected aircraft to a subset flagged by the manufacturer.

Under an airworthiness directive (AD) set for publication May 16, operators of a subset of 787s will have 36 months from the order’s effective date to swap out panels—or bilge barriers—in the forward and aft cargo compartments. The draft directive proposed requiring all 787s to undergo the work, but Boeing and two operators—American Airlines and Japan Air Lines—noted that a production-line change corrected the issue on recently manufactured aircraft. 

The FAA agreed, limiting the final rule to airframes identified in a May 2022 Boeing service bulletin. The affected population includes most 787-8s, 787-9, and 787-10s with line numbers from 6-1095. 

The issue first arose several years ago when operators discovered torn decompression panels in bilge areas. “Most likely, the disengaged decompression panels found on the in-service airplanes disengaged prior to delivery during a test flight, but this is not certain because these airplanes were not inspected for disengaged panels at Boeing,” the company said then. “However, in tests done at Boeing, some decompression panels have disengaged at a pressure differential below the design/intended value.”

In response, Boeing and the agency developed a repetitive inspection program—first for just 787-8s and -9, but later expanded to 787-10s. Replacing the bilge barriers eliminates the need for repetitive checks.

Ensuring the panels are not damaged eliminates “the possibility of leakage in the bilge area, which could, in the event of a cargo fire, result in insufficient Halon concentrations to adequately control the fire,” the FAA said.

The AD applies to 135 787s on the U.S. registry but is likely to be adopted globally.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.