FAA weighs in on 787 flight test timeline

Update, Feb. 8:

The Puget Sound Business Journal has this article focusing on the certification timeline.

Original Post:

Boeing has publicly said that it plans a flight test timeline of 6-8 months, depending on when Boeing was making its public statements (it’s been a bit of a moving target). The latest information appears to be an 8 month timeline.

Boeing forecasts making its first flight of the 787 in the second quarter; its internal timeline was about April 20 or 24 (first reported by Air Transport World) but we understand this is now a To Be Determined date, with an internal timeline in June–still within the second quarter, it must be noted. (We previously predicted a first flight in the June-August period, and are at the moment sticking to this.)

All Nippon Airlines, the launch customer set to receive the first airplane, said it expects delivery in February 2010. This reaffirms the anticipated eight month flight test forecast made by Boeing, assuming a June first flight. If the first flight comes as late as August, a February delivery to ANA still is theoretically possible if a six month flight test program can be achieved.

As we previously reported, Boeing has reorganized its flight testing department with the intent of increasing manpower and efficiencies. Full implementation isn’t expected until September, about mid-way into the currently projected 787 flight testing timeline. This suggests the 787 flight test program may partially benefit from the reorganization.

As many have written, previous Boeing test programs have taken 11 months or more and aerospace analysts seem fairly well united in predicting a year-long flight test program is more realistic for the 787 than that suggested by Boeing. So we asked the Federal Aviation Administration what it thinks about the timeline. Here’s the answer.

Question: Boeing plans a timeline of 8 months for flight testing for the 787, perhaps compressing this to six months if possible.
a.        Given the new technology, the special conditions, the production issues, the fastener issues, the complex software integration issues and so on, does the FAA believe that it can complete all the analysis, reviews and all other things needed within 6-8 months proposed by Boeing, or does the FAA believe that a period longer than 6-8 months will be required?
b.        If longer than 6-8 months will be required, how much longer does the FAA believe is realistic?

Answer: The 787 type certificate will be issued by the FAA only after the Boeing Company has successfully demonstrated compliance with the applicable regulatory requirements.  The Boeing Company has developed the 787 certification schedule, predicated on the projected availability of assets and experience in past Boeing certification programs.  The schedule is a plan that the company and the FAA will work from.  In the event that unexpected successes or delays are encountered during the course of the program, the schedule will be adjusted to reflect those events.  However, the schedule itself does not define when the program will be completed.

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