Air NZ's Dreamliner plans hit turbulence

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2013

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Air New Zealand's trans-Pacific plans for operating Boeing 787 Dreamliners have hit a major problem with an announcement in Washington that rules over how far they can fly from an airport are unlikely to be extended.

As the rule for Extended Twin-engine Operations (Etops) now stands, Air New Zealand will not be able to fly its new Dreamliners direct from Auckland to the United States or Canada without a stop or a significant route change.

Air New Zealand remains committed to its aircraft orders.

Under Etops, twin-engine planes must always be within 180 minutes' flight of an airport when flying on a single engine in an emergency.

Boeing sold the troubled aircraft on the basis that Etops would be changed to 330 minutes.

But the US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) chief, Michael Huerta, told a Senate hearing in Washington that the authority was going to further restrict the Etops rule.

In response to a question, Huerta said the FAA was also reviewing "our original Etops certification" for the jet.

The 787 originally was awarded Etops certification to fly up to three hours from the nearest airport on one engine.

The plane is designed to fly up to 15,300 kilometres nonstop.

The Seattle Times reports that Air New Zealand, which expects its 787s early next year, could not fly directly from Auckland to Los Angeles without three-hour Etops approval.

The biggest problem for Air New Zealand is that there are no suitable airports between Fiji and Samoa and Hawaii.

The Seattle Times says the FAA rule change may even affect the ability of the Dreamliner to fly between Hawaii and Los Angeles.

The newspaper says tighter restrictions would further damage the plane's reputation and prevent airlines from taking full advantage of the jet's ultra-long range on routes across the poles or vast tracts of ocean.

Boeing had no comment on Huerta's remarks.

Aviation-industry analyst Scott Hamilton told the Seattle Times that the impact on the 787 programme would depend on how much the Etops standard was reduced.

"If they bring it down to two hours, that's inconvenient, but still workable," Hamilton said.

In that case, he said, Boeing would have to pay penalties to its customers for the shortfall in promised performance.

If it is reduced to just one hour, "that becomes problematic", Hamilton said.

The Australian news web Crikey says Etops may be reduced to 120 minutes or less.

Flightglobal website says the Etops certification is essential for most airlines that fly the aircraft on routes over the water, or even overland in remote areas of Australia.

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- The Dominion Post

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