Amid the continuing uncertainty of the investigations, many investors, airlines and Boeing itself still appeared to believe late last week that the grounding will soon end, with the manufacturer working on proposals to meet the authority's concerns.
Bjoern Kjos, CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, says Boeing has been communicating to customers that a fix will be in place soon. Boeing has also assured Norwegian that the planned delivery of its first 787 in April is not threatened. Although it has stopped 787 deliveries pending the outcome of the investigations, production continues. Kjos's comments reflect the official position of most 787 customers, which have publicly backed the program and given no hint of order cancellations or deferrals.
Analysts have been commenting calmly as well. “We take the battery failures on the 787 over the past two weeks very seriously, but we believe the most likely outcome is that Boeing will identify and fix the problem over the next several weeks or months at most,” says Joseph Nadol of JP Morgan. He argues that even if an alternative battery needs to be retrofitted, “this should not represent a severe financial hit.” Additional weight of another battery type would “not make a major difference on its own” for the aircraft's performance,” Nadol says.
“We believe Boeing will resolve this hurdle and maintain its production schedule,” writes Merrill Lynch analyst Ron Epstein in a research note. He sees no impact on the backlog and considers the faults “another teething issue Boeing will work through.”
Meanwhile, 787 operators continue to adjust their schedules. Most have interim schedules in place until the end of January. ANA, hardest hit with a fleet of 17 aircraft, canceled its Tokyo-San Jose, Calif., service until Jan. 28. The airline is dispatching Boeing 777s on some Seattle-Tacoma services, but it had to cancel several roundtrips. ANA also canceled some regional flights for which the 787 should have been used due to a shortage of aircraft.
Other carriers with smaller fleets were not forced to pull services, at least not to the same degree. United Airlines replaced its 787s mostly with 737s on domestic routes and with 777s on long-haul roundtrips. Its Houston-Lagos, Nigeria, service will be operated by 777s until mid-February. LOT Polish Airlines is using 767s for its Warsaw-Chicago flights, and Qatar Airways is replacing the 787 with A330s on its European runs.
Despite the public display of support, some 787 operators are understood to be asking Boeing for compensation. LOT and Qatar Airways in particular have made clear to Boeing that they will not accept further aircraft without a credible fix. Airbus is confronting similar claims over the lengthy permanent A380 wing repair that will become a major issue for airlines this year.
Boeing and the FAA could also face more negative publicity if Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, carries through with his call for a hearing on the 787 battery issues. The committee says it will look into the FAA's decision to certify the 787 with lithium-ion batteries as part of its previously planned examination of U.S. aviation oversight.
Jens Flottau Frankfurt and Guy Norris Los Angeles