March 04, 2013
Repercussions of the Boeing 787 groundings are becoming increasingly vexing for All Nippon Airways (ANA), as flight cancellations start to overlap with crucial peak travel periods. After initially being a competitive advantage for its launch customer, the 787 has turned into a headache that is forcing the carrier to make tough scheduling choices.
Although Boeing is working to get the 787s flying again, any certified solution will come too late for one of ANA's highest-demand weeks. To reduce uncertainty, ANA has already extended 787 flight cancellations to the end of May, encompassing Japan's traditional holiday period known as Golden Week.
ANA has also had to suspend another of the long-haul routes that were launched with the 787 in mind. This is a blow to the airline, since these flights were a key part of its international network expansion strategy. The arrival of the 787 opened up new route opportunities that were well-suited to the aircraft's range and size.
The latest round of cancellations means ANA's flight disruptions will last at least four months from when the worldwide 787 fleet was first grounded in mid-January after the discovery of serious problems with the aircraft's lithium-ion batteries.
This was certainly not the script that ANA envisaged. After enduring three years of delivery delays, the carrier had last year finally begun to gain some marketing mileage from being the 787 launch customer. Now the 787 woes have become just the latest in a string of challenges for ANA, which has already faced a serious demand slump following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the revival of main competitor Japan Airlines (JAL) with the aid of government intervention, and new competition from a developing low-cost airline sector.
ANA has the largest 787 fleet of any airline, with 17 aircraft delivered. Six are configured for domestic routes only, six for international flights only and another five have been used domestically but are slated to eventually switch to Asian routes.
Since the 787 groundings, ANA has had to progressively issue updates on which flights will be canceled or changed. The latest update covers the longest period yet, March 31-May 31, as the carrier seeks to restore some stability to its schedule.