Boeing and FAA agree ground rules for certification of 747-8

Washington DC
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Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration have agreed on the ground rules for judging the airworthiness of the 747-8 family, but left undisclosed the balance between new and grandfathered requirements.

The agreement ends several months of negotiations focused on meeting Boeing's plan to certificate the 747-8 as a derivative of the 747-400 rather than as an all-new aircraft.

The grandfathered certification requirements caused a public feud earlier this year between Airbus and Boeing, with Airbus claiming the 747-8's safety standards would be compromised.

Boeing confirms an agreement with the FAA had been reached on the 747-8's airworthiness standards, but declines to discuss any specifics.

"I will say that wherever possible we stepped up to the new regulations," says Mike Teal, 747-8 deputy chief project engineer.

Airbus's argument against certificating the 747-8 as a derivative focused new safety standards in two areas: lack of a front exit door for the upper-deck and absence of a so-called "damage tolerant" structural design.

The 747-400 was certificated before those standards were approved by the FAA, and it remains unclear how the agreement treats both issues.

The 747-8 will enter flight testing three months late in February 2009 due to production re-sequencing. Boeing decided to push back production of the first 747-8F until after the last 747-400 is assembled, which the company claims will reduce the risk of production delays.

First delivery remains on schedule, however, to Cargolux in late 2009. The new timeline compresses the schedule for certification from about one year to nine months.

Teal says the 747-8 will be immune from the supply chain lapses that triggered the six-month delay for the 787 programme. Although integrating a new wing and new General Electric GEnx-2B engines, the 747 benefits from a mature supply chain.

Indeed, the programme should pass the milestone for releasing one-fourth of all engineering drawings by late November, he says. The GEnx-2B should enter tests in December.

Moreover, the 747-8 engineering staff is also at peak levels despite the problems facing the 787, he says.

But the programme is also dealing with the production re-sequencing and a sudden chain of leadership, as former 747 vice-president and general manager Dan Mooney was transferred in September to lead the regulatory affairs office.

Mooney's former boss, Ross Bogue, has assumed direct oversight of the 747 programme, while still managing the overall Everett site minus the 787.