Boeing 787 Concerns Linger as 330 Minutes ETOPS Approved

JAL Boeing 787 at Tokyo Narita

Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 787-8 at Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the Boeing 787-8 for 330 minute ETOPS, or extended operations. The 330 minute ETOPS will allow the twin engined 787 aircraft to fly 330 minutes from the nearest diversion airport. The new ETOPS certification is great news for Boeing and 787 operators alike, opening up new, direct routes the 787 Dreamliner will be able to fly.

Previously, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was able to fly up to 180 minutes away from a diversion airport. Despite early problems, including the 2013 grounding of the aircraft type, the 787 is gaining popularity between operators and passengers alike. The 787 provides a 20% fuel savings over older aircraft and is perfect for pioneering new routes. Early on ANA pioneered Tokyo Narita (NRT) service from Silicon Valley’s San Jose Intl Airport (SJC). Another such route will be United’s San Francisco (SFO) to Chengdu (CTU), China, marking the first non-stop flight from North America into China’s interior.

Passengers enjoy the new creature comforts provided by new technology the 787 Dreamliner uses, specifically a lower cabin altitude while in-flight combined with increased humidity levels. The plane also sports larger windows and airlines are outfitting the planes with the latest in seats and entertainment systems.

The 330 minute ETOPS approval is great news for 787 operators and likewise sends a message regulators such as the FAA are confident in the Boeing 787. However, the United States NTSB still has some concerns with the 787 battery system.

NTSB raises questions with 787 Lithium-Ion Battery Certification

Just prior to the FAA providing 330 minute ETOPS certification, the NTSB issued asafety recommendation lettercalling into question the lithium-ion battery system. Days prior, on May 22, The NTSB stated, “because there is no such standardized thermal runaway test, lithium-ion battery designs on airplanes currently in service might not have adequately accounted for the hazards associated with internal short circuiting.”

The NTSB issued a number of recommendations in their letter, including re-evaluating the internal short circuit risk for lithium-ion batteries already in service. To date, Boeing has delivered 146 Boeing 787-8 airliners.

These recommendations are a result of the NTSB investigation into a January 7, 2013, battery fire involving a Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 at Boston’s Logan Airport (BOS). Days later, on January 16, 2013, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787-8 made an emergency landing at Takamatsu in Japan after an in-flight battery short-circuit. These events resulted in an unprecedented four month grounding of the 787 fleet in early 2013.

Despite a battery fix by Boeing it seems the NTSB has some lingering concerns. The Boeing 787 is a market leader with the use of new technologies and it’s important to safely leverage emerging technologies. You can bet regulators and Boeing are listening to the NTSB recommendations — at the same time it’s important to note the aircraft has performed well since the battery fix and operators are eager to acquire new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to modernize fleets and realize the significant fuel savings this twin engine aircraft delivers.

In closing, NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said, “The history of commercial aviation is one in which emerging technologies have played a key role in enhancing flight safety.” Hart concludes, “This is why it’s crucial that the process by which these technologies are evaluated and certified is as robust and thorough as possible. These recommendations will take us further in that direction.”

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