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.