Jan 25, 2013

Dreamliner: What will delays really mean to QF/JQ?

The 787 delays are arguably useful for Qantas and Jetstar in the short term, but a real headache if they disrupt fleet planning later into the decade.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Qantas is no different to other 787 customers in brushing off questions about the Dreamliner crisis as something that will soon be resolved, and well before it takes its first deliveries mid year of 787-8s for use by Jetstar.

It’s an understandable stance. But it looks hollow after this morning’s NTSB briefing on its investigations into two serious battery malfunctions in 787s this month, that have lead to the type being grounded, without any clear indication as to exactly why these problems occurred or how they will be prevented from happening again.

The 787 is going to be significantly impacted by these issues, and perhaps even more so by the parallel FAA inquiry into the certification of the Dreamliners as safe to fly.

But is it all bad news for Qantas or Jetstar? Not necessarily. Qantas and Jetstar and their domestic competitors Virgin Australia and Tiger are engaged in mutually damaging fare and capacity wars that will from a short term perspective make a delay in the distractions caused by introducing or countering a new type of airliner something of a relief.

Those of us who want to see the newest and best in service may not be relieved, but the airlines are run as businesses not aircraft appreciation societies, so, tough.

As a matter of opinion, the Asia based low fare franchises of Jetstar Asia, Tiger, Scoot and AirAsia and its AirAsiaX longer haul operation all have to deal with some uncomfortable outlooks.  Especially when it comes to Scoot’s aged but renovated 777-200s which are to be replaced by 787-9s, Jetstar’s long haul A330s, which are to be replaced by 787-8s, and AirAsia X’s A333, which are, or maybe were, to be replaced by A350-900s.

Scoot is now in an expansion hold, described as a ‘consolidation’.

Jetstar’s owner Qantas may not care all that much in its current struggles whether or not it gets hand-me-down A330s displaced by giving the low cost carrier the very latest in airliners.

AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes is saying, yet again, how much he really likes the idea of a re-engined A330, rather than a brand new A350.

For these carriers a later rather than on-time introduction of 787s and A350s doesn’t seem like the end of the world at all, which is how the Dreamliner groundings are being seen elsewhere for no doubt valid reasons by some other airlines, starting with All Nippon and Japan Airlines.

There is however an underlying cause for operational concern in Qantas in that the Dreamliners were always going to be the key to fleet renewal strategies for the period between 2008-2012. There is an operational need to get rid of ancient 767-300s in the Qantas fleet, even though they are being very attractively refurbished for the short term. The process by which 787s to Jetstar meant A330s back to Qantas where they caused the retiring of the 767s is now disrupted to an unknown degree.

For Air New Zealand, anything which might further delay its becoming the inauguration airline for the 787-9  is also a concern. There was very little prospect of Air NZ getting the first 787-9 by mid 2015, and the thought of this slipping into 2016 would be a very unhappy situation for the airline to contemplate.

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