x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Engine shortage stalls Boeing

Boeing could see further delays in the delivery of its 787 Dreamliner, the new passenger jet of which Gulf airlines are among the largest buyers.

Gulf airlines account for almost one in seven of the global orders for Dreamliners.
Gulf airlines account for almost one in seven of the global orders for Dreamliners.

Boeing could see further delays in the delivery of its 787 Dreamliner, the new passenger jet of which Gulf airlines are among the largest buyers. The company, based in Seattle, announced this weekend the delivery of the first orders could be delayed by several weeks more next year due to unavailability of the Rolls-Royce engine to be used in final tests.

A spokeswoman said deliveries next year "are affected to some degree" but did not elaborate. Gulf airlines account for almost one in seven of the 847 Dreamliners on order across the world, which have a total price tag of $147 billion (Dh539.87bn). "The delivery date revision follows an assessment of the availability of an engine needed for the final phases of flight test this [autumn]," Boeing said. "Flight testing across the test fleet continues as planned."

Airlines in the Gulf, including Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, have booked orders for a total of 128 Dreamliner aircraft. A spokesman for Etihad Airways said Boeing had assured it the delivery of 35 Dreamliners in 2014 was still on track. "The manufacturer is confident there will be no impact to our scheduled deliveries," he said. "We are constantly in discussions with Boeing and remain committed to the B787 programme and to our relationship with the manufacturer."

The Dreamliner, which sells for between $150 million and $205m, has already been delayed by more than two years of delays. Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst at FBE Aerospace, said Qatar Airways could be significantly impacted by any future delays in delivery as the carrier was one of the largest single customers of the plane in the region. It was expecting its first deliveries next year. "Qatar Airways have already been quite vocal on the subject [of delays] - they'll make a song and dance if there are any more," Mr Ahmad said.

Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, had threatened to walk away from a contract for 30 Dreamliner aircraft with Boeing in November because of continuing delays. Qatar Airways was unavailable for comment. Boeing said the first delivery, to the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, would now arrive early next year, instead of December as planned. The sixth postponement of the Dreamliner could add further costs for Boeing. This month National Aviation Company of India said it would seek $840m in compensation for the delays.

Other customers on Boeing's order books include Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian and Alafco, the aircraft leasing firm based in Kuwait, which supplies Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines. Iraq has bought 10 of the aircraft. Most Gulf airlines have ordered GEnx engines from General Electric rather than the Rolls-Royce engines that are linked to the current setback. Last month, trials were interrupted when a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine used to power the Dreamliner exploded at a test site in the UK.

A Rolls-Royce spokesman told Reuters the company was "working closely with Boeing to expedite delivery in support of their programme schedule". Rolls-Royce added its engine supply issues were "unrelated to the test-bed event, which occurred earlier this month" and that none of its engine test programmes had suffered any delays. Boeing added it was working with the British engine maker to ensure engines were made available as soon as possible but the delay would not affect its financial outlook.

After the announcement of new delays, Boeing said it would replace the head of its 747-8 Freighter programme, which has also had extensive delays. Pat Shanahan will co-ordinate efforts to roll out the cargo transport, taking over from Mohammed Yahyavi. Mr Yahyavi will "take on a special assignment", according to a memo seen by Bloomberg. The Dreamliner, billed as the most fuel-efficient passenger aircraft on the market, is largely made of composite materials and is expected to use about a fifth less fuel than rival airliners.

It is able to travel at the same speed as a Boeing 747, despite having only two engines to the 747's four, and produces 20 per cent less carbon emissions. gregor.hunter@thenational.ae