An FAA pilot was flying ZA002 at the time of the 787's emergency landing in Laredo, Texas, confirm those with direct knowledge of the incident.

The FAA pilot, whose identity has not been disclosed, was sitting in the left seat of the 787 during its final descent into Laredo International Airport. A Boeing Test pilot was sitting in the first officer's seat on the flight deck.

While the FAA pilot performed the landing, on any Boeing experimental aircraft, a Boeing test pilot is considered to be in control and responsible for the oversight of the flight.

Two FAA personnel were part of the crew of 42 aboard ZA002, including the pilot and a systems engineer who was observing in the cabin during the more than 6h flight to test the aircraft's nitrogen generation system.

At this late stage in the flight test campaign, which has already seen the accumulation of more than 2,300h of flight time, regulatory personnel are almost always involved in evaluating the aircraft for certification credit.

As the investigation into the 9 November fire unfolds and safety and design recommendations are formed, the presence of the FAA pilot and systems engineer on board the 787 means regulatory authorities do not have to rely on Boeing's interpretation of events.

During the failure of the P100 power panel, which was first noticed as ZA002 crossed through 1000ft above ground level (AGL), multiple engine indication and crew alerting system (EICAS) messages appeared on flight deck displays before load shedding reduced the available displays to a single screen on the left side of the flight deck.

A source with direct knowledge of the incident says both heads up displays (HUD) were disabled as well and another says the location of the sole active display ultimately determined which member of the flight crew landed the aircraft.

Evaluating how the aircraft responded to the fire is equally important to regulatory authorities as establishing the cause of the fire in the P100 power panel and Boeing maintains the 787 "performed as expected".

In addition to the eye-witness accounts of those on board the aircraft, Boeing has significant additional data at its disposal to sift through as ZA002 is a fully instrumented flight test aircraft measuring parameters well beyond a normal commercial aircraft.

Boeing continues to inspect ZA002 in Laredo, a process the company says will "take several days" to complete, and adds "it is too early to determine if there is significant damage to any structure or adjacent systems."

First delivery to Japan's All Nippon Aiways remains scheduled for the middle of the first quarter 2011, but that date is believed to be in jeopardy with the 787 fleet grounded during the fire investigation.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news