Boeing’s Dreamliner nightmare deepened today when the planemaker told one of its biggest European customers it could miss deliveries of its flagship new jet piling tens of millions of dollars onto compensation claims as customers rent alternative jets.
Today Norwegian Air, which has eight Dreamliners on order, the first due in April and the second in June, said Boeing had warned it of a potential delay and added that it “will enter into an agreement with a leasing company to operate long-haul routes in the event of the Dreamliner being delayed”. Analysts said leasing two planes the size of the 787 for three months would cost about $6 million (£3.8 million), a bill Boeing would have to foot.
The entire worldwide fleet of 787s has now been grounded for more than three weeks as investigators try to discover what is wrong with the plane’s lithium-ion battery, which caught fire in Boston and forced an emergency landing in Japan.
A further blow for the business came as Deborah Hersman, chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said the conditions used to assess the safety of the Dreamliner’s batteries should be reconsidered — potentially leaving the 787s grounded for much longer. Switching to a different type of battery would be a major engineering operation as well as adding weight to the plane — fuel efficiency thanks to the light lithium batteries was one of the 787’s main selling points.
In Britain, Thomson is due to take delivery of the first of eight Dreamliners later this month, and British Airways is expecting its first 787 in May. But analysts warned those schedules were unlikely to be met. Zafar Khan, aerospace analyst at Société Générale, said. “The real issue with the batteries has yet to be identified, but if they need to be re-designed or face re-certification, it’s looking like a delay of about three months. Clearly, Boeing will need to compensate customers.” This is in addition to reimbursing airlines which have had to ground jets. Japan Airlines, which has eight, is looking at a cost of $8 million from its earnings to the end of March and rival ANA, with 17, said it lost 1.4 billion yen (£9.6 million) in January alone.
Boeing’s certification tests put the chance of smoke from a 787 battery at one every 10 million flight hours. But Hersman said: “There have been two battery events resulting in smoke, less than two weeks apart, on two different aircraft. The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered.”
Boeing has received permission to conduct test flights to investigate the batteries under flight conditions.