The latest FAA guidance on the Dreamliner 787 situation says that no matter what it does and when about the current grounding order, it is no longer considering a Boeing request to extended its ETOPS rating from 180 minutes to 330 minutes.
Nor did it clarify whether or not it intended to restore the ETOPS 180 minutes rating the 787s had when they were grounded just over three months ago after failures in heavy duty lithium ion batteries in a Japan Airlines and an All Nippon Airways jet.
The top U.S. aviation regulator said on Tuesday he expects to decide “very soon” whether to approve Boeing Co’s redesigned 787 Dreamliner battery system, potentially ending a three-month ban on flights by the high-tech jet.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta, testifying to a congressional committee on air safety, said the agency is reviewing tests and analysis submitted by Boeing and will approve it when “we are satisfied Boeing has shown the redesigned battery system meets FAA requirements.”
Huerta told reporters after the hearing that he expects the battery decision to be made “very soon.”
Huerta said the FAA was working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating battery problems on two separate 787s in January, but would not necessarily link its decision to an NTSB hearing next week.
“We’re on our own timetable in terms of completing the analysis,” Huerta told reporters. “Once we’re ready to move and make a determination, we will.”
He also told the committee the FAA was considering separately whether to certify Boeing’s 787 for extended-range operations, known as ETOPS. The plane was approved for flights over remote areas of up to 180 minutes when it was grounded for two battery meltdowns in January.
Before the grounding, Boeing had requested an upgrade to 330 minutes, but Huerta told reporters the agency was “not considering any expansion beyond that (180) at this time.”
Reading those comments from a Qantas perspective, the Boeing interest in ETOPS 330 is irrelevant, because neither the airline, nor Australia’s air safety regulator CASA, have ever shown any official interest in a rule that allowed a 787 to fly up to 330 minutes single engine speed from a suitable and open emergency airfield.
CASA as the national safety regulator, has to approve the ETOPS rating of an Australian registered airliner even if the jet is certified to that standard at the hangar door by US standards.
This is because ETOPS reliability isn’t just built into an engine/airframe combination, but comes with some very tough maintenance procedures and reliability obligations which have to met by the airline concerned. ETOPS is not just what it is, but how it is done.
Critically, if a reliability problem arises with an ETOPS certified engine/airframe combination, that approval is revoked until the airliner and airline concerned both demonstrate that the unforgiving standards the process set for them has been restored. The grounding of the 787 means that its ETOPS 180 rating need not be restored as a matter of course when the grounding is lifted. It may be, but it may also be reduced to 120 minutes, or less.
Qantas subsidiary Jetstar, which on latest guidance may not get the first of 14 Boeing 787-8s on order until as much as several months after the intended initial delivery this August, needs ETOPS 180 to have an efficient and useful Dreamliner. Like all other modern twin engined wide body western jets in service with airlines world wide, Jetstar’s fleet of 10 Airbus A330-200s are ETOPS 180 rated.
They are to be returned to Qantas for mainly domestic use as Jetstar replaces them with Dreamliners. Anything less than ETOPS 180 is likely to seriously disrupt that process. So already has the 787 grounding, and it is very important for the Qantas group that the 787-8s experience no more delays.
Boeing has said that fixing (after a fashion) the 787 battery problem with a super fire box to cover all eventualities has delayed by an unspecified period its work on the enhanced and stretched higher capacity longer range 787-9 Dreamliner, for which Qantas holds options or purchase rights from 2016.
Next week the US safety investigator, the NTSB, will hold public hearings into the process by which the Boeing 787 was certified by the FAA, and other related matters.