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.
“It’s really premature to talk about what ETOPS certification we would give them right now,” said the spokesperson. “We’ll be in a better position to answer questions like that after we get through all this battery testing.”
Boeing referred questions to the FAA. During a recent news conference in Japan, Boeing executives said there had not been any conversations with regulators about extended range operations. They said the proposed certification plan did not foresee further limitations once the plane was allowed to resume flight operations.
The issue is heating up as Boeing nears the end of testing the new battery system, designed to prevent the meltdowns that occurred in January. Boeing executives say the FAA could approve the new battery system within weeks. The first flight test of the system took place Monday, and a second, final test flight is expected in coming days, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said.
Analysts and industry executives say any decision to limit the flying time of the new aircraft would have serious consequences.
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 canceled, 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 operations.
A step-by-step return to full, extended flight would give regulators more time to study the effectiveness of Boeing’s battery fix, and could help the Obama administration prove that it was making good on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s promise to ensure the plane was “1,000-percent” safe, some experts said.