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Boeing 787 Nears Service as FAA Backs Rolls-Royce Engine

Boeing 787 Nears Service as FAA Backs Rolls-Royce Engine
The Trent 1000 is one of two engines that Chicago-based Boeing is offering for the Dreamliner and will be used on the first of the jets to enter service. Photographer: Ron Wurzer/Boomberg

Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner moved a step closer to entering passenger service with U.S. regulators’ approval of the jet’s Rolls-Royce Plc engine for long-range flights, including those over oceans.

The Federal Aviation Administration certified the Trent 1000 engine for extended operations, or ETOPS, meaning it can fly as far as 5 1/2 hours away from the closest airport, London-based Rolls-Royce said today in a statement. The plane itself still must get the same certification before service can begin.

The Trent 1000 is one of two engines that Chicago-based Boeing is offering for the Dreamliner and will be used on the first of the jets to enter service. Boeing’s plastic-composite 787 was marketed to airlines for its ability to fly long distances more efficiently. The Dreamliner is running three years behind schedule and now is due for its initial delivery by September, pending full FAA certification after other tests.

“You have to have both the plane and the engine,” said Howard Rubel, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York. “But this is a good thing. From what I understand, once you see ETOPS testing light up, then you know you’re in the last lap.”

Boeing is working toward approval for extended operations with the plane and engines combined, said Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman in Everett, Washington, where the 787s are built. It also still needs to complete function and reliability testing as well as a week of “service-ready operation validation” in Japan, where the company will operate the Dreamliner with its first customer, All Nippon Airways, Gunter said.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the Rolls-Royce approval earlier today.

FAA Concerns

The FAA had expressed concerns over the plane’s engine and electrical-system reliability after a fire in a power panel during a test flight in November.

All Nippon plans to use its first Dreamliners on domestic routes, so the initial 787s that are delivered will be certified to fly only as much as three hours away from an airfield, Gunter said. The company will work its way up to the full 5 1/2-hour certification before any of its customers need that much, she said.

General Electric Co. makes the other engines that Boeing is offering on the Dreamliner. Japan Airlines Corp. is set to be the first carrier to fly with those.

Rolls-Royce’s engines were one of the snags Boeing has experienced over the past year and a half of test flights on the Dreamliner. Boeing delayed the plane’s entry into service for the sixth of seven times in August, saying Rolls-Royce wasn’t able to supply an engine to finish flight testing. A Trent 1000 had blown up on a test bed 3 1/2 weeks earlier, forcing the manufacturer to close the site for repairs.

Boeing also had to park one of the Dreamliner test planes in September to replace one of its Rolls-Royce engines following a power surge before a takeoff during trials in New Mexico. Boeing said the two incidents were unrelated.

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