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.
TUI Travel has 13 787s on order for its carriers in addition to Thomson: TUIfly Nordic, Arkefly and Jetairfly.
Ethiopian Airways was the first African airline to deploy the 787. It was operating its four 787s in alternation with its 777-200LR on routes to Johannesburg; Washington; Toronto; Frankfurt; Beijing; Lusaka, Zambia; and Harare, Zimbabwe. Ethiopian anticipated receiving its fifth 787 in March. The remaining five were scheduled to be phased in 2014.
For Chinese customers, the 787's current woes just add to another. Completed 787s for China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines—three each as of December—have been sitting idle, awaiting a type certificate that the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) was not expected to issue until March.