Airlines will continue to operate their current aircraft longer and postpone planned retirement to the extent possible, Mowry argues. Many carriers that lease alternative medium twin-aisle aircraft will seek to extend their existing leases. “In addition to these fleet-management techniques, airlines can also delay new route launches or reduce route frequencies,” he says.
Mowry anticipates “a modest lift in dry-lease rates for alternative medium twin-aisle aircraft particularly for short- to medium-term lease extensions,” but he does not expect to see a material effect on aircraft values. And not all lessors will benefit to the same extent. “Most benefits will accrue to larger lessors with significant inventory flexibility in current lease-extension negotiations, and those lessors with speculative orders yet to place,” he notes.
For their part, airlines are tight-lipped about the consequences of the 787 groundings, despite the very real impact on operations. But a consultant describes the operational effect as “an enormous problem” touching on a wide range of elements such as schedules, seat capacity, crew rosters and securing replacement aircraft. Airlines also have to address onboard service concerns and undeliverable customer expectations.
International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh says he has been briefed by Boeing on what might happen next. “There are some changes to the systems that I know they are going to introduce, but I can't disclose too much of it because I have been given information on a confidential basis,” he says. Walsh expects “some redesign” of the battery system which would take “a couple of months.”
IAG subsidiary British Airways has 24 787s on firm order, eight of them 787-8s and 16 787-9s. The airline has expected its first 787-8 in May and a total of four are due this year.
American Airlines, United, Air Canada, Qantas Airways and others say they have not been formally notified yet of delivery delays for their 787s. Some, like American, are not due to receive their aircraft until the end of 2014.
For other carriers, the persisting Dreamliner problems are a godsend. Gulf Air, for instance, used the past 787 delivery delays to cancel part of its order without penalty, and the troubled Bahraini airline might follow suit to further reduce it 787 commitment as it tries to survive.
U.K. carrier Thomson Airways was expected to receive its first 787 at the end of February, four by May and another four by May 2015. The airline, which is part of the integrated tourism conglomerate TUI Travel, had planned to put the aircraft in commercial operations as of May 1 on long-haul flights from London Gatwick Airport, Manchester, East Midlands and Glasgow to Sanford, Fla., and Cancun, Mexico.
Thomson Airways is now implementing contingency plans, in case the aircraft do not arrive by the end of March. It has a fleet of 48 aircraft, including 19 757-200s and 10 767-300ERs, according to the Aviation Week Fleet Intelligence Network database. “Once we have more information from Boeing regarding delivery dates, we'll be able to look at which 767s we have available to use in our fleet,” the airline tells Aviation Week.