The grounding of all Boeing 787′s a few weeks ago did not cause much comment in the general press. There are only just over fifty of these new aircraft in service and the few airlines that have them only have a handful in service so most have been able to re-schedule their services using their existing fleet. Only the two Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA have had any real problems and they seem to be coping quite well.
When the FAA announced the grounding, it was assumed it would be just for a few days or weeks whilst the batteries were tested. Unfortunately, Boeing, the Japanese manufacturers of the battery and the various safety authorities do not seem any nearer to finding out what has gone wrong. Rumours are now spreading that the grounding could continue for several more weeks or months.
Boeing’s delivery schedule plans to ratchet up delivery of the new aircraft to ten a month by the end of the year. Officially, the schedule has not changed – though obviously there are no current deliveries since the aircraft cannot fly. A delay of a few weeks would not cause a problem but the longer this goes on, the more serious the consequences could become.
Airlines who currently have the 787 should not have too much trouble substituting other aircraft from their fleet in the slack Winter season. However, from May onwards, the Summer schedules will make it much harder to do this. The Summer schedules will have been drawn up on the basis of the new aircraft being fully operational. Some airlines will already have signed contracts to sell, or return old aircraft to leasing companies. Other airlines will, in turn, be counting on these aircraft entering their fleets.
In Britain, both Thomson and British Airways are expecting 787′s in the Spring and early Summer. Thomson have already allocated their two 787′s and sold the seats. Maybe they can just continue using the 767′s they currently have but they were supposed to be leaving the fleet (with one departing as each new 787 arrives) and, presumably, another airline is expecting the 767′s. Qatar have been waiting for their 787′s anxiously and several new routes (which have already been sold) depend on the aircraft being in the fleet. Norwegian claim their new longhaul budget routes due to start in the Spring will not be hit because they have contingency plans to lease another aircraft – but there are very limited replacement aircraft available for lease and they will be expensive. And so it goes on.
The 787 grounding is far from a disaster yet. Even if it continues for the rest of the year, it will not cause chaos, but, the longer it goes on, the more trouble it will cause and it could be a very annoying summer for some airlines.