Could 787 face an ETOPS restriction?

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As Boeing works to regain permission for its 787 Dreamliner
to resume flights, the company faces what could be a costly new challenge: a
temporary ban on some of the long-distance, trans-ocean journeys that the jet
was intended to fly.


Aviation experts and government officials say the Federal
Aviation Administration may shorten
the permitted flying time of the 787 on certain routes when it approves a
revamped battery system. The plane was grounded worldwide two months ago after
lithium-ion batteries overheated on two separate aircraft.


Losing extended operations, or ETOPS, would deal a blow to
Boeing and its airline customers by limiting use of the fuel-saving jet,
designed to lower costs on long-distance routes that don’t require the capacity
of the larger Boeing 777. Such a loss could even lead to cancellation of some


Grounding the 787 already has cost Boeing an estimated US$450
million  in lost income and compensation payments to airlines. Further
restrictions on the 787’s range could send the airlines’ claims – and Boeing’s
costs – higher.


Until it was grounded on January 16, the 787 was permitted
to fly routes that ranged as much as three hours away from an airport. Boeing
has asked the FAA to extend that range to 5-1/2 hours. That change would enable
airlines to fly many more routes across remote areas such as the North Pole.


Now (Other OTC: NWPN – news) the jet faces the potential
temporary loss of its ETOPS approval or a roll-back to two hours, according to
government officials and aviation experts.


"It is completely within expectations for FAA to limit
ETOPS for the 787," one regulatory source in Japan told Reuters. He said that
reducing the range to two hours would force Japanese airlines to fly more
circuitous routes, burning up more fuel and cutting efficiency.


A former senior U.S. government official said there was
"a distinct possibility" that Boeing could win the battle over FAA
flight certification for the battery only to lose permission for extended
operations – at least temporarily.


An FAA spokesperson said it was too early to discuss ETOPS
approval since Boeing’s battery fix was still being tested.


The change would not rule out all international routes, but
some specific routes, such as Japan Airlines Co’s Tokyo-to-Boston flight, might have to be
cancelled, said the Japanese regulatory source.


The 787’s biggest customers so far include All Nippon
Airways and Japan Airlines, which fly extended routes to the United States and Europe,
and Qatar Airways. In the U.S.,
United Airlines is the only carrier to have taken delivery of 787s. The
airlines declined requests for comment on how loss of ETOPS could affect


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