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Apr 17, 2013

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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.

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10 comments

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10 thoughts on “Dreamliner 787s: FAA says not considering extended ETOPS

  1. Raetzloff Tim

    I am amazed and pleasantly surprised that FAA has taken 330 off the table. Ditto, only more so, if FAA has the spine to reduce ETOPS by even 60. Historically, ETOPS was supposed to be earned by proven performance.

  2. Mike Bohnet

    The FAA is not considering 787 ETOPS 330 at this time. That does not mean that the consideration will not resume after re-certification if ETOPS 180 is still maintained.

    It looks like Jetstar’s first 787-8 will enter final assembly 5 weeks from now and come out of the FAL 11 weeks from now, in the first week of July. This assumes the current production rate does not change.

    Also, it looks like the first 787-9 will enter final assembly 6 weeks from now, the final week of May. This can be verified 4 weeks from now when the parts should be arriving in Everett.

    http://nyc787.blogspot.com

  3. Mike Bohnet

    Continuing from my previous comment:

    Delivery of the Jetstar 787-8 will depend mostly on how quickly Boeing can work through the considerable backlog of frames waiting for pre-delivery tests and flights, with the additional 1 week of work per frame for installing the new battery system. Flight ops at Everett is going to be extremely busy after re-certification.

    Perhaps the Jetstar 787 can skip the line. There are 5 Chinese and 2 Air India frames ahead of the Jetstar frame at Everett. If the past is any indication, Air India will not have their financing in order when their 787’s are ready, and the Chinese will not grant certification any time soon.

  4. comet

    Quoting from The Seattle Times:

    In response to a question from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., [Huerta] said the FAA is also reviewing “our original ETOPS certification” for the jet.

    Boeing had better open its wallet ready hand out vastly more compensation to the airlines.

  5. keesje

    It seemz like a normal process for the 787 to build a realiability record first before regainng ETOPS180. The many batteries exchances weren’t the only reliability issues. Airlines had to go to extreme lenghts to keep dispatch reliability acceptable during the first year. This should be part of the broader NTSB review.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324595704578240172467982196.html

    Congress should take their responsibilities serious. Pushing the FAA and NTSB in various indirect ways makes me nervous. Those politicians could have the spot lights on them in the next few years in ways that don’t help them. I’m not sure of this battery issue is a symptom or an isolated incident as the OEM wants us to believe. Let the NTSB do their work.

  6. comet

    I think this is an obvious hint that the FAA is seriously considering reducing the Dreamliner’s ETOPS rating below its current 180 minutes.

    But what does this mean, anyway?

    For example, if the Dreamliner was restricted to 120 minutes or even 60 minutes, it’s still too far away from an airport to deal with a fire. If an airliner has a fire on board, to stand much of a chance it really needs to be back on the tarmac in less than 20 minutes.

    Oh, I forgot. Those new fangled fire boxes will make fires OK now.

  7. Mike Bohnet

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that the FAA will certify the new battery system if Boeing cannot show that the likelihood of a thermal runaway is less than once in every 10 million flight hours, or that the likelihood of a fire is less than once in 1 billion flight hours.

    It is preposterous to think that Boeing or the FAA considers a burning battery acceptable in any way.

    The ETOPS re-consideration is independent of the battery issue, as clearly stated by the FAA chief.

  8. comet

    Not that preposterous, considering FAA chief Michael Huerta stood up in front of the world’s media and declared the 787 a safe aircraft just days before it was grounded. That shows he’s prone to declaring things safe when they’re not.

  9. Mike Bohnet

    After one battery incident, why would anyone think that the problem is necessarily chronic? Didn’t someone from Qantas stand up and say the A380 was still safe after the uncontained LPT failure almost brought the aircraft down?

    I’m not trying to say the A380 is unsafe at all, I’m just pointing out that one incident does not necessarily point to something being unsafe. Two incidents, however, is a horse of a different color.

    I can’t think of one person who predicted ahead of time that the 787 battery would have the problems that it did. Everything else was questioned, but I don’t recall any serious interest in the battery beforehand.

  10. Mike Bohnet

    Uresh Sheth at http://nyc787.blogspot.com thinks that April 24th will be the magic day for FAA approval. He also is predicting Boeing will make their big announcement about this in Addis Ababa. It appears there is a growing Boeing contingent assembling there that is top heavy.

    A supporting piece of evidence that approval (at least as far as Boeing believes) will come next week is the increased 787 activity on the Everett flight line.
    Boeing has already installed the battery fix on at least 2 additional deliverable frames, LN-34 for China Southern, and LN-83 for ANA, in addition to the LOT frame, LN-86. Either the China Southern or the ANA frame flew today, although both were scheduled to go up.

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