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FAA clears Boeing to fly 787 over remote stretches of ocean, up to 5.5 hours from any airport

WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared Boeing Co.'s 787 to fly far over the ocean, up to 5 1/2 hours away from the nearest emergency landing site.

The move comes while another branch of the government — the National Transportation Safety Board — is still investigating the cause of a January 2013 battery fire aboard a 787 parked at the gate in Boston. Nobody was injured, but that fire — and a subsequent smoke condition on a separate plane nine days later — led to a worldwide grounding of the plane, also known as the Dreamliner.

Last week, the NTSB Thursday criticized the FAA's process used to certify the new jet's batteries in 2007. It also recommended that the FAA needs to look outside the aviation industry for technical advice.

Wednesday's move appears to put to two agencies again at a head.

The 787 first carried passengers in October 2011. Regulators had previously allowed it to be flown only 3 hours away from an airport while traversing oceans. The expansion lets airlines fly the Dreamliner over extremely long stretches of open ocean, primarily the South Pacific.

United Airlines had once considered flying the plane between Houston and Auckland, New Zealand — a 7,415-mile route that would have only been permitted under today's less lenient restriction.

Chicago-based Boeing has delivered 146 Dreamliners to 19 different airlines and has another 884 on order.

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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.

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