According to the New York Times, shortly after the discovery of the 777 flaperon on Reunion Island, Boeing and the NTSB found discrepancies between the part and details recorded in Malaysia Airlines’ maintenance data. This claim was reinforced by an article published by Le Monde on Wednesday, which reported that “maintenance work that Malaysia Airlines has indicated it carried out on the flaperon does not exactly match that observed on the discovered piece.”
I’m somewhat puzzled by this language. What does it mean to “not exactly match”? Airplane parts are engineered pretty precisely, if a part should have eight holes and it has nine, it doesn’t just “not match exactly,” it doesn’t match.
At any rate, it seems to me that just by looking at photographs available on line we can discern some oddities about the Reunion flaperon that have perhaps given investigators pause.
UPDATED: Well, that didn’t take long. Readers @GuardedDon and @Beinahu wrote in and told me that I was mistaken: “the widget” that I write about after the jump most likely does not represent a basic difference between the Reunion flaperon and the reconditioned 777-200ER one. Rather, the two black rectangles visible on the reconditioned flaperon are holes to which a bracket fitting is attached in both the Reunion and India Airlines flaperon. Someone told me weeks ago that the two black rectangles were “rub plates” and I’d assumed that ever since. So there’s one idea I can throw out the window.
UPDATE #2: On 9/3/2015, Nicola Clark of the International New York Times (@_NicolaClark) tweeted to me the following explanation of the discrepancies that the paper reported: “Sources told us wing part showed evidence of expected modifications (reinforcement plate) to the flaperon but the number and placement of screw holes did not precisely match what would have normally been expected.” Given that the identity of the flaperon has since been confirmed, this would seem to imply non-standard maintenance practices or record-keeping by Malaysian Airlines.
Anyway, I’m leaving up the rest of the post after the jump, so people can see what I’m admitting to being wrong about.
You’ll recall that I posted this image yesterday:
Here I’ve marked it with arrows to denote a particularly interesting feature I’ll call “the widget.” Now compare that picture with this one, which was posted on Airliners.net by a user who calls himself Txspotter. (Note: Txspotter posted a picture of a left-hand flaperon, so here I’ve cropped and flipped it around so that it is easier to visually compare with the right-hand flaperon found on Reunion.)
I work for an aftermarket parts supplier who tears down all aircraft including B777’s. I happen to work on the B777 product line. Here are some pictures of a B777-200ER left hand Flaperon. This unit has been repaired. It is from a similar production line number as MH370.
That is to say, it is from a 777-200ER. And as I think is pretty evident, “the widget” does not appear on this part. Perhaps it’s a feature of some 777-200ER flaperons, but not others? Or perhaps it’s a feature of some 777 models but not others?
Below is a photo of an India Airlines 777-300ER flaperon that it posted online as it was tendering bids to have the part repaired. (This time I’ve rotated and cropped it.)
It might be a little hard to see because the image is taken from the underside of the piece, but it’s pretty clear that something like the widget is attached here. Perhaps this is something that Boeing omitted from the 777-200ER, but included in the later 777-300ER? For a better look at this image, the original pdf is available here. A supporting document is here.