Wednesday, April 17, 2013

FAA says 787 decision to some "soon" and are re-examing ETOPS certification

FAA chief Mike Huerta, testified yesterday that the FA has all the documentation that Boeing has submitted to re-certify the 787 lithium ion batteries and that a decision will come soon but they won't be rushed into a decision.  He said that the FAA will approve it when "we are satisfied Boeing has shown the redesigned battery system meets FAA requirements."  Boeing is ready to go and start implementing the modifications once the FAA has signed off which may come as early as this week.  Several carriers (Qatar Airways and Ethiopian) have said that they plan to resume 787 revenue service as early as this month.  ANA and JAL are expecting a return to service next month and United expects to be flying again late in May. No word on when LOT Polish, LAN, or Air India will return to service though expect that by mid June they will all be flying the 787 again.

On fly in the ointment is the FAA's review of the 787's ETOPS 180 certification.  This is being done independent of the battery certification.  I'm not sure what the basis of the ETOPs review (other than the battery issue) is on.  If the basis of the review is solely on the battery issue, then I do expect that the FAA should re-affirm the ETOPS 180 certification as the battery containment system will add a level of safety to the airplane in the event of a thermal runaway in the battery such that it won't bring down the aircraft and should allow the aircraft enough time to divert to an airport.

It also seems to me that if Boeing wants to certify the 787 for ETOPs 330 they will need to run new certification flights for that purpose using the battery and the new containment system in different failure modes. Given that the 787-9 launch customer, Air New Zealand, requires ETOPs 330 when they take delivery, I expect that these tests will take place by the end of the year or very early in the 1st quarter of 2014.

Is there a chance that the FAA can restrict the 787s ability to fly ETOPS (either partially or fully)? Absolutely. Will they do it is another question but I am sure Boeing is in communication with them on this issue as well as ETOPs 330.

I still do expect that Boeing will resume deliveries by middle to late May if the approval is given soon (this week) but there probably are political considerations for the FAA before the approval is given. We'll see.  Scott Hamilton expects approval after the NTSB hearings on the 787 battery certification that is to take place on April 23-24.

1 comment:

TravelingMan said...

Would be strange for them to approve the fix without allowing the plane to keep the ETOPS certification. Something like saying, sure we trust the plane, just not enough to let it carry folks over water.