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Dreamliner 787s: Now the real waiting games begin

Qantas should be able to give its best guess this Thursday, at its half year to 31 December financial results briefing, as to how the 787 Dreamliner delays will affect Jetstar and Qantas plans.

In fact the Qantas briefing and a much anticipated announcement by Boeing as to its proposals for an interim fix for the battery problems which have grounded the Dreamliners since mid January could even occur within hours of each other.

But one thing is clear. The Jetstar 787-8s are going to be late, and even delayed until well into next year.

The first of these Dreamliners, configured for a high passenger load for the jet’s size of 313 seats, had in the New Year been expected as early as August.

The Qantas Dreamliners, which are ‘stretched’ 787-9s, are no longer firmly ordered by Qantas, but available as fixed price options from 2016, on the often repeated proviso that Qantas long haul operations have become sufficiently profitable for investments in new fleet.

It is being said quite widely in business circles that Qantas long haul is now profitable, to an unknown degree, following a re-aligned of cost allocations of Jetstar operations to Jetstar rather than Qantas operations.  The truth or otherwise of those stories will it is hoped be explored when the first half FY 13 figures are filed, although the details may require some digging to be made clearer.

As far as Qantas is concerned, what happens in its various divisions happens within the one listed entity, and it can, quite rightly, do whatever it likes, and be judged on what its actions bring to its investors.

What happens to the Dreamliners on order or option is much more a matter for Qantas in FY14 and beyond.

But these jets now pose uncertainties that employees and investors would want clarified as well as that can be done at this early stage of the quest for an explanation for the battery failures that led to the 787s being grounded.

How long it will take, if the FAA agrees to a return to flight, to certify and apply that interim fix in the first place? Three months seems optimistic, yet six to nine months seems very, very bad for Boeing and its customers.

Then after that comes a permanent fix, which until the battery problems are categorically identified and addressed through further redesign and certification procedures, remain a total unknown in terms of times taken and the disruption that may arise from replacing an interim fix with the final comprehensive redesign.

Inbetween the introduction of an interim fix and a permanent fix the uncertainty as to the cause and cure for the problems may cause Dreamliner aversion in the minds of travellers reluctant to fly on a jet beset by an unresolved problem.

No-one should be happy with this situation, and the 787s are crucial to the renewal of fleet in Qantas, especially the need to retire aged and now ancient 767s that should have been gone several years ago if Boeing had ever been able to deliver the Dreamliners on time and to specification starting in mid 2008.

The 787-9s optioned for Qantas are more capably specified airliners, with better range/payload promises than the -8s, but it is unclear so far if there will be a significant impact on the assembly of the first -9 to fly, about which Boeing hasn’t been saying much of late.

The 787-9 is supposed to first enter service with Air New Zealand in the second half of next year. It was originally due to have been ready by late 2010. If it turns out it needs more extensive changes to incorporate the lessons learned with the -8s the rumours that the higher capacity and longer range version of the Dreamliner will not be ready until the second half of 2015 will start to sound more believable.

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  • 1
    comet
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Six-nine months for Boeing’s “interim fix”?

    The FAA may baulk at an interim fix, and demand a permanent fix (eg NiCad) before the 787 can return to service.

  • 2
    Cat on a PC©
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I agree with the comment about the 787s being crucial to Qantas’ fleet renewel. More crucial is the need for management at Qantas to bite the bullet an order 777s. It’s a tried an proven performer and it’s unbelievable that they have not yet considered it.

  • 3
    ltfisher
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Good question Cat on a PC; perhaps it’s to do with ‘saving face’ although I wasn’t aware that that cultural cloak had spread across the Irish Sea>

  • 4
    patrick kilby
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    There is also the issue of having multiple types and the fact that for the (20 year old technology) 777 is the 20 year depreciation life of a plane in Australia (thanks ATO)so that they would be well past their use by dates (remember the youngest 744 is only 13 years old and everybody complains it is too old). The 787-9 and 787-10 plus the other 12 A380s make a lot more sense (far more cost efficient), even if they are a year or two late.

  • 5
    Over the top
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It astounds me that people are not talking more about the more pressing problem of Brisbane Airport, the Traffic delays and the fight over who is going to pay the basic infrastructure costs of construction of the parallel runway.

  • 6
    Over the top
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Well this was not the post i was planning on commenting on in the above regarding Brisbane.( iPhone and small buttons maybe). But in any case the point still stands.

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