Delays with Dreamliners deepen nightmare for Boeing

Boeing faced with vast bill as 787 arrivals are delayed

Boeing's Dreamliner nightmare deepened yesterday when the planemaker warned airlines, including one of its biggest European customers and Britain's Thomson Airways, it looks likely to miss deliveries of its flagship new jet.

The admission will pile tens of millions of dollars on to compensation claims as airlines set up replacement leasing deals and demand payouts for cancelled flights.

Boeing said: "We have informed our customers expecting 787 deliveries in the near term that those aircraft either have been or are at risk of being delayed. We are staying in close communication with our customers as we work towards... a plan for resumption of 787 deliveries."

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 United States 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.

Airbus is also understood to be considering whether drop lithium-ion batteries in its new A350s as the investigations into Dreamliner's problems continue.

Thomson, which is due to take delivery of the first of eight Dreamliners this month, said it was "finalising contingency plans". Norwegian Air, which has eight Dreamliners on order, the first due in April and the second in June, said 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 just two planes the size of the 787 for three months would cost about $6m (£3.8m), a bill Boeing would have to foot.

British Airways is still expecting its first 787 in May. It said it "remained committed to taking the delivery of four 787s in 2013".

But analysts warned Boeing's battery problems would delay delivery schedules by around three months. 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 redesigned or face recertification, 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 $8m from its earnings to the end of March and rival ANA, with 17, said it lost ¥1.4bn (£9.6m) in January alone.

Ms Hersman said: "The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered."

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