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WSJ: FAA Modifies Airspace Restrictions for New Boeing Jets

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WSJ: FAA Modifies Airspace Restrictions for New Boeing Jets


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Photo by Joe Contreras


By Andy Pasztor and Peter Sanders Of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL




A week after issuing interim rules to protect aircraft from the wake turbulence generated by Boeing Co.'s (BA: 70.39 ,-0.97 ,-1.36%) latest jetliner models, federal regulators abruptly reversed course and said the restrictions were premature.


The FAA's surprise move on Tuesday left industry officials and safety experts uncertain about the potential hazards of flying closely behind the 787 Dreamliner and the larger 747-8, both of which are currently undergoing flight tests. The original rules mandated many aircraft maintain roughly double the typical distance when flying behind other widebody Boeing or rival Airbus aircraft.


The situation was further confused when an FAA spokeswoman said the interim rules--distributed to air traffic controllers nationwide--contained "some mistakes." The guidelines were signed on Sept. 27 by Nancy Kalinowski, an FAA vice president of system operations services in the air traffic organization.


But the spokeswoman, Laura Brown, also said the replacement standards, which could be announced shortly, may turn out to be similar or in some cases identical to those that were withdrawn.


Ms. Brown didn't provide details about the revised airspace separation guidelines.


Boeing officials on Monday said only they were in discussions with the FAA about the agency's initial restrictions placed on aircraft following the Dreamliner and the 747-8.


The interim rules, requiring aircraft to remain at least 10 miles behind the new Boeing jets during large portion of the descent towards the airport, would have remained in effect until October, 2011. By then Boeing expects to deliver a handful of 747-8's and possibly more than a dozen Dreamliners to airlines.


Such spacing and other restrictions--especially around busy hub airports--could frustrate airlines such as All Nippon Airways Co. (9202.TO), Japan Airlines Corp. and Cargolux Airlines International S.A. that are among the first slated to put the Boeing models into service.


Boeing 787s are scheduled to commence passenger service with ANA after the first quarter of 2011, and the first deliveries of 747-8 cargo planes also are expected to occur around the middle of next year.


Maintaining extra safety margins during late phases of approaches to congested airfield could reduce overall capacity and complicate the introduction of the new jets.


The FAA's notice said studies indicate that wakes generated by 747-8 and 787 models--essentially cones of spinning air spreading out from the tip of each wing--"may be more substantial than those" created by existing wide-body or jumbo jets such as the Boeing 747-400 or Airbus A340.


Nearly three years behind schedule, the 787's development has been beset by design issues, manufacturing problems and engine malfunctions. Development of the stretch 747 has been delayed by production and testing difficulties, including aerodynamic issues discovered during flight tests that could affect its wake characteristics.


Copyright © 2010 Dow Jones Newswires

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Related article:


New 747 cargo plane tested at Fresno airport


Boeing 747-8 is a jumbo freighter.


Posted at 11:22 PM on Monday, Sep. 27, 2010

By Tim Sheehan / The Fresno Bee


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Photos by Joe Contreras




A spanking-new Boeing 747-8 cargo airplane and one of its older siblings rumbled through the skies over Fresno on Monday, part of a flight-test program before the giant jet is delivered to its first commercial customers.


Boeing is testing its new jumbo freighter at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and several other airports to learn about its flight characteristics in different conditions, Tim Bader, a spokesman for the company, said. The second airplane, a Boeing 747-400, is accompanying it so engineers can compare the two aircraft.


The new 747-8, outfitted in the red, white and blue paint scheme of its future owner, Luxembourg-based Cargolux, and its Boeing-blue-and-white companion, flew to Fresno from different airfields near Boeing's manufacturing plant in Everett, Wash. The 747-8 that flew around Fresno on Monday is one of only four built so far, Bader said.


Their arrival within minutes of each other about 11 a.m. Monday attracted a crowd of onlookers to streets with a vantage point of the airport runway. Some spectators began gathering on a frontage road next to Chestnut Avenue, near the northwest end of the runways, a couple of hours before the planes touched down.


"It's not often that something that big and that technologically advanced comes to Fresno," said Lorence Liscano, a self-described aviation fan and technology buff. "It's going to be the biggest civilian airplane in the world. ... This is big-time."


The 747-8 is the newest member of Boeing's 747 family, and with a wingspan of almost 225 feet and a length of more than 250 feet, it's also the largest -- 13 feet wider and 18 feet longer than the 747-400. It boasts a cargo capacity of almost 148 tons -- about 20 tons more than the freighter version of the 747-400.


"I'm just impressed and heartened by these big aircraft coming in here," said Tom Skypeck, who bicycled with his wife, Jeanette, from their Fresno home to the airport. "It makes you proud that they chose this place to do the testing."


Skypeck, a retired high school teacher who was also a career Air Force man, was armed with a video camera and a radio scanner tuned to the airport's frequency. He listened in as the Boeing test pilots talked to air-traffic controllers when pilots maneuvered their planes over the Valley.


After landing, the 747-8 trundled down the taxiway, followed by the 747-400. About 15 minutes after it touched down, the big jet roared back down the runway, kicking up a cloud of brown dust before lumbering into the sky. The 747-400 followed suit about 8 minutes later. The two jets then swung large arcs around the airport before passing over the runway, each making two low-level flyovers scarcely 60 feet off the ground. By 12:15 p.m., both jets had completed their maneuvers over Fresno and were winging their way to San Bernardino.


Airport officials said the testing program is expected to visit Fresno intermittently over the next couple of months. Under a formula based on aircraft weight, Fresno Yosemite International will send a bill to Boeing for landing fees for the two jets. Those charges have not been calculated, said Vikkie Calderon, an airport spokeswoman.


Monday wasn't the first time Fresno has hosted gigantic aircraft. The largest airplane ever to visit the airport was an Antonov 124-100, a Russian-built cargo monster that spent several days here in 2001. And on several occasions since 1995, presidents have been ferried to and from Fresno aboard Air Force One.

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Those dash 8's are crazy big. We can see them doing their test flights above our airspace and 25 mile away clear as day. Wish they'd come by and play on our new runway...

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