Will Boeing’s 787 Comeback Hit This Huge Barrier?

Although its planes are nearing permission to resume service following battery issues that crippled the active fleet of 50 Dreamliner aircraft, Boeing (NYSE:BA) still has a long walk ahead of it. A successful test flight this week offered cautious optimism that Boeing may meet its goal and have its aircraft airborne again by May, pending the results of a second test flight and subsequent data report to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Now, experts are debating whether the 787 jets can resume full service overnight. According to aviation experts and officials, the FAA may be contemplating a temporary ban on trans-oceanic flights — the very flights that the 787 was designed to fly. Even though the restrictions would err heavily on the side of safety, the move could end up costing the manufacturer and its customers significant amounts until full service is resumed.

The 787, said to be the most fuel-efficient aircraft to date, was designed to drop costs and expenses associated with trans-oceanic flights that do not demand the size of the larger 777, Reuters reported. A ban on those services could end up resulting in route cancellations, and other significant costs to airlines.

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“If the FAA approves (only) over-land operations it would be a very damaging blow to the 787 program,” said Scott Hamilton, an aviation analyst with Leeham Co. in Seattle. ”Depending on how long that restriction remains in place, it would completely undermine the business case for the airplane, which was to be able to do these long, thin intercontinental routes” over water, he added.

While not an unfounded maneuver – the goal being to ensure as much as possible that the planes can make an emergency landing if necessary — the grounding has already cost Boeing almost half a billion dollars, to the tune of about $50 million per week that the planes remain grounded.

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“It is completely within expectations for FAA to limit ETOPS [extended operations] for the 787,” one regulatory source in Japan told Reuters. He said that reducing the range to two hours would force Japanese airlines to fly more circuitous routes, burning up more fuel and cutting efficiency. Originally approved for flights up to 5.5 hours, Boeing could experience a rollback to flights of 3-3.5 hours or less which would force the planes to make more circular routes and burning more fuel, negating the fuel savings that the plane was designed for.

Boeing representatives did not offer comment on the matter. At 10:20 AM EST, Boeing shares were down 1.52 percent.

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