Dreamliner NZ-US flights questioned

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 17:17 11/01/2013

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United States regulators are questioning the ability of the new Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft to make long-distance, trans-Ocean flights, such as those between the US and New Zealand.

The US's Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] has been monitoring the Dreamliner's long haul reliability even before a number of aircraft malfunctions hit the headlines this week, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The tighter oversight and potential extension of FAA restrictions on how far 787s can fly from suitable emergency landing strips could affect flights into New Zealand and Air New Zealand's use of the 10 787 aircraft it has ordered from Boeing.

After several years of production delays Air New Zealand is supposed to take delivery of its first 787 in the second half of 2014, and the airline said it was too early for it to comment on any reliability issues with the craft.

The WSJ specifically mentioned the long-haul, trans-Pacific route from Houston to Auckland as one which could be in danger from tighter regulations.

Three incidents this week have drawn attention to the Dreamliner's problems, but airlines have downplayed the issues as "teething problems".

On Tuesday a Japan Airlines 787 cabin filled with smoke from an electrical fire just moments after passengers disembarked in Boston following a flight from Tokyo.

In another incident at the same airport another JAL 787 was diverted from taking off after a fuel leak was discovered.

Japan's All Nippon Airways was also forced to cancel a 787 flight from Yamaguchi prefecture in western Japan to Tokyo due to brake problems.

Current FAA regulations restrict 787s to only flying routes that are within three hours flight of a suitable emergency landing airport.

A three-hour restriction could have implications for Air New Zealand's reach into the United States - a problem which the Dreamliner's superior range and fuel efficiency was supposed to solve.

Those restrictions were set to relax as the reliability of the 787 was tested and Boeing had been quoted as saying it expected the flight restriction to extend to 330 minutes, or five and a half hours, by early 2012.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that FAA experts have been monitoring a variety of reliability issues that arose in the past few months and attracted attention inside and outside the agency.

The issues have prompted FAA officials to adopt a go-slow approach in extending the three-hour restriction, according to the WSJ's sources.

US-based United Airlines planned to fly its 787 Dreamliners between Houston and Auckland but axed the plan last year for unrelated economic and operational reasons.

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The FAA's concerns with the 787, the WSJ's sources said, moved beyond the fuel-system-related software to include a range of power-supply issues along with questions about quality controls during Boeing's manufacturing process.

A high-level review of the issues by the FAA is expected to be announced soon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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