Airlines look at temporary 787 alternatives

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Airline operators of the Boeing 787 are considering short-term alternatives to fill the gap in their schedules until the aircraft is back in the air.

Air India, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Ethiopian Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL), LAN Airlines, LOT and United Airlines took delivery of 50 of the type before it was grounded by aviation regulators around the world in January following two separate battery-related incidents.

A "handful" of these carriers as well as those who were scheduled to receive the 787 by the third quarter are looking at possible interim alternative aircraft for their fleet, says Jeffrey Knittel, president of CIT, at the ISTAT Americas 2013 conference in Orlando on 12 March.

"We have been in discussions with customers who might need interim lift," he says.

Carriers with smaller widebody fleets, for example Norwegian, are more likely to need some form of temporary lift versus those with large fleets, such as United, says Knittel.

Norwegian has tentatively agreed to lease two Airbus A340-300s from HiFly for long-haul flights if its 787 deliveries are delayed.

United chief revenue officer Jim Compton said the grounding was "readily manageable" and cited the fact that the 787 only constituted six of its 700 aircraft fleet, in an employee newsletter in January. However, the airline has since postponed the launch of its new flight Denver-Tokyo Narita to 12 May from 31 March, San Francisco-Paris Charles de Gaulle to 26 April from 11 April, and San Francisco-Taipei to 6 June from 9 April as a result of the grounding.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a proposed fix to the battery issues on the 787 on 12 March. The regulator must certify the fix, which most analysts expect in about six weeks, and modifications made to the existing fleet of 787s before airlines can resume flying the aircraft.

Knittel says that CIT has seen lease rates for Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s "strengthen slightly" since the 787 grounding but adds that values remain relatively unchanged.

Air Lease Corporation (ALC) added 10 Boeing 777-300ERs to its order backlog after it saw an increase in demand for widebody aircraft in the second quarter. John Plueger, president and chief operating officer of the lessor, said that some of the increased demand was "probably attributable to concerns about the 787 resolution", during an earnings call on 28 February.