Dreamliner gets OK for expanded long-range flights

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given the Boeing 787 Dreamliner permission to fly longer over-water routes, a move that will make the aircraft more attractive to a number of the world’s airlines.

The OK, which was announced by Boeing (NYSE:BA) on May 28, permits the 787-8 to fly flights of up to 5½ hours from a suitable emergency landing field, an increase from the previous maximum of three hours that has been in place since the plane was introduced in 2011.

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“The move will allow 787s to be operated up to 330 minutes from a landing field and signals continued confidence in the airplane's technical capabilities,” Boeing said in a statement announcing the approval of the longer range.

The extended range will enable the plane to fly longer polar routes and routes over water that its previous limit did not make possible. According to Boeing, the longer range is particularly important for airlines in the southern hemisphere that fly long routes over water.

"Our customers are eager to expand their 787 operations," Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, said.

Noting that Boeing had designed the capability into the airplane “from the very beginning,” the company had intended to secure FAA approval of the longer flying time shortly after the plane’s introduction. However, the move was hindered by reliability issues that resulted in the grounding of the Dreamliner for 3½ months in 2013, after fires involving the aircrafts’ lithium-ion batteries.

The new approval allows Dreamliners to fly as far as 330 minutes from a landing site in the event of a loss of one of its two engines, a major mechanical failure or other problem.

Dreamliner engine manufacturers General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Rolls-Royce were given separate clearances to allow airlines to fly the extended routes. Depending on customer preference, 787 Dreamliners are equipped with either GE GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

Granting of the expanded operational permission will allow airlines to introduce additional routes after they meet the proof of capabilities requirements and receive approval from their own regulatory agencies for such operations, according to Boeing. Airlines will still have to demonstrate to local regulators that they meet requirements such as fire-suppression and other safety systems before starting such routes.

While the approval applies to the 787-8, the company expects to secure approval for extended operations of the larger version of the plane, the 787-9, when that version certified by the FAA later this year.

With the approval, the Dreamliner becomes only the second twin-engine jet to have secured the “ETOPS” or “extended operations” approval. The other is the Boeing 777.

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