Goglia, the former NTSB board member, said regulators are “going to have to find a way to balance off their caution with the country’s and Boeing’s need to get this airplane back in the air.”
Having certified the high-tech plane as safe, the FAA is facing very close scrutiny of its approval procedures. The NTSB has questioned the process Boeing and the FAA used to certify the plane.
Without these pressures the FAA might have approved Boeing’s fix in a couple of weeks and had the jet flying in another month or two, said Hans Weber, a consultant who has served as an adviser to the FAA for more than 20 years.
“Now, with the other considerations, I don’t even want to venture a guess,” said Weber, president of TECOP International, in San Diego.
Aboulafia estimated that it would take at least four months for the 787 to get cleared to fly if the FAA approves flight tests soon, as Boeing requested. If flight testing takes longer, it could take six to nine months before the 787 is back in the sky.
Some safety experts see the FAA eager to stand by Boeing and move quickly - even if politics slows it down some. The agency has a well-established process for vetting plane changes and has called in numerous experts to advise it on lithium-ion technology.
Former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo said the FAA is likely to decide that the fix is “an acceptable risk before the NTSB will.”