GAO Examines "Concerns" About Composites

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In a report (PDF) completed last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined "safety concerns" about the use of composites in commercial aircraft. Based on research and interviews with experts, GAO investigators identified four key safety-related concerns with the repair and maintenance of composites in commercial airplanes, but added that none of the experts they talked to believed these concerns were insurmountable or posed "extraordinary safety risks." The FAA is taking action to help address its concerns, the GAO said, but added that "until these composite airplanes enter service, it is unclear if these actions will be sufficient."

The four concerns cited by the study are: (1) limited information on the behavior of airplane composite structures, (2) technical issues related to the unique properties of composite materials, (3) standardization of repair materials and techniques, and (4) training and awareness. Boeing's 787 is the first mostly composite large commercial transport airplane to undergo the FAA certification process. Since existing safety standards are often based on the performance of metallic airplanes, the GAO said, the agency was asked to review the certification processed used by the FAA and EASA. The 787 is about 50 percent composite by weight, not counting the engines, according to the report.