Qantas piles on the pressure as Boeing's dream sours

Australian carrier tells US manufacturer it will buy 15 fewer new Dreamliners
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The Independent Online

Australian flag carrier Qantas yesterday cancelled orders for 15 Dreamliner aircraft and deferred delivery of another 15 by four years, dealing yet another blow to Boeing's much-delayed new model.

The B787's maiden flight, due on 30 June, was postponed for the fifth time earlier this week, to allow time for a side section of the 50 per cent plastic composite fuselage to be reinforced.

However, Alan Joyce, the Qantas chief executive, said its cancellation reflected the economic climate rather than technical problems.

"Qantas announced its original B787 order in December 2005, and the operating environment for the world's airlines has clearly changed dramatically since then," he said. "The agreement will provide greater certainty, in terms of fleet renewal and growth strategies, as well as resource planning and matching capacity with demand. It will also allow Qantas to manage capital investment more effectively."

The deal will save Qantas $3bn (£1.8bn) in capital expenditure. But even with the reductions, the airline is still the biggest Dreamliner customer, in combination with Jetstar, the Asian budget carrier in which it owns a 49 per cent stake.

Boeing has not yet given a new date for the test flight, and is not expected to do so for several weeks.

The Dreamliner, which uses plastic composites to save sufficient weight to bring fuel consumption down by a fifth, is Boeing's first new design since 1995.

Some 865 pre-orders may make it the fastest-selling new model ever.

But it is more than two years behind schedule, after problems ranging from bubbles in the plastic composite, to an industry-wide shortage of fasteners, to a machinists strike.

The first customer is All Nippon Airways, which ordered 50 aircraft in 2004. The first batch is scheduled for delivery early next year.

Boeing's Dreamliner is not the only big new aircraft on offer. It is in competition with Airbus's A350 long-range plane, which is expected to fly in 2013.