Exclusive: FAA nears decisive step in restoring 787 to flight

Thu Apr 18, 2013 11:12am EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Alwyn Scott

(Reuters) - U.S. regulators are close to approving a key document that could start the process of returning Boeing Co's (BA.N: Quote) grounded 787 Dreamliner to service within weeks, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Approval of the document, known as a Project Statement of Compliance, would mark a decisive step towards ending the three-month grounding of Boeing's high-tech jet. It would kick off a series of procedural steps allowing airlines that ordered the $200 million plane to fly them for the first time since January.

The grounding has cost Boeing an estimated $600 million, halted deliveries and forced some airlines to lease alternative aircraft. Several airlines have said they will seek compensation from Boeing, potentially adding to the planemaker's losses.

Regulators grounded the worldwide fleet of 50 jets after lithium-ion batteries burned on two planes at the start of the year. Boeing redesigned the battery system and sent test results to the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month.

The document could be approved as early as next week, said two of the sources, asking not to be identified because the discussions remain confidential.

The FAA declined to comment on whether Boeing had already submitted the document, the exact contents of which are unclear.

Boeing also declined to comment beyond saying that it stands ready to continue working with the FAA "to ensure we have met all of their expectations."

The timing has not been fixed and could still be delayed, the sources said. It's also possible that extra steps could be added to the approval process, resulting in further delays and prolonging the uncertainty around if and when the 787 can fly again.   Continued...

A scale model of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner sits on a table in front of an actual aircraft during the 787's certification event at Paine Field, Everett, Washington on August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante