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Boeing 787 Nears FAA Approval as Flight Tests Are Completed

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Boeing 787 Finishes Flight Tests in Move Toward FAA Approval
The tailfin of a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner test aircraft is seen at the Paris Air Showon June 22, 2011. Photographer: Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first composite-plastic commercial jet, finished its 20-month flight-test program in the final hurdle toward approval for passenger service that could start next month.

A 90-minute trip on Aug. 13 completed the trials as the ninth Dreamliner built in the program flew to the home of Boeing’s wide-body jet factory near Seattle from Billings, Montana, the planemaker said today.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration now must verify the paperwork in a review Boeing has said it expects this week and then certify the jet before its first delivery. The agency, which has worked with Boeing since the 787’s inception, doesn’t discuss certification work, said Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman.

Announcing the completion of the testing program took four days because Chicago-based Boeing first had to ensure that all requirements had been met and no further flights were needed, said Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman.

The Dreamliner will be more than three years late once Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. gets the first one, making it Boeing’s longest commercial development program ever. Boeing struggled with parts shortages, new materials and the manufacturing process developed for the 787.

‘Challenges Ahead’

While that delivery will be “an important positive step, we see challenges ahead as being as large as the challenges to date, with the need to rapidly ramp up production and deliver attractive margins,” Douglas Harned, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, wrote in a note yesterday.

The Dreamliner program probably won’t be profitable until the 1,000th delivery, wrote Harned, who rates Boeing as “market-perform.” The 787 is Boeing’s fastest-selling new jet ever, with orders for about 830 of the $202 million aircraft from 52 customers.

The shares fell 5 cents to $62.18 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, extending their decline for the year to 4.7 percent.

Boeing said the final test flight involved a 14-member crew and included simulations of takeoff with a failed generator and failed fuel-flow indication. The plane touched down in Everett, Washington, where Boeing builds the 787 and other twin-aisle jets.

Test Aircraft

Six test jets have been based at Seattle’s Boeing Field since the model’s maiden flight in December 2009. The planes flew all over the world, testing high-altitude performance in Bolivia, noise in Montana and crosswinds in Iceland. During about 4,800 flight hours, crews dealt with simulated and real emergencies -- including a fire in 2010 -- and sought out lightning and icy conditions.

The planes that completed testing last weekend were powered by engines from Rolls-Royce Holdings, one of two options for customers and the first that will enter service. Tests on aircraft using General Electric Co.’s GEnx engine are continuing.

Boeing says the 250-seat Dreamliner will fly farther and use 20 percent less fuel than rivals by shedding the traditional, heavier aluminum fuselage and replacing some hydraulics and pneumatics with an all-electric system.

The company had expected computer modeling and new, streamlined processes to cut physical testing to 8 1/2 months, two months less than usual and the shortest flight trials ever for Boeing. Engineers and pilots also had extra time to prepare, since the first flight was 28 months later than planned.

Boeing created a new companywide flight-test unit so the commercial test jets could share airfields with the military programs. And more ground testing on the 787 was moved into the second shift to keep the days free for flying, with engineers and mechanics working around the clock.

Still, the program was plagued by problems including the November electrical fire that grounded the fleet for six weeks and forced a seventh delay to the original May 2008 certification target.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susanna Ray in Seattle at sray7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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