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A nightmare scenario for Dreamliners

18 Jan 2013 THE AGE - MATT O'SULLIVAN



THE crisis enveloping Boeing's new flagship aircraft has deepened, with regulators around the world following the lead of US regulators in grounding the 787 Dreamliners.

Australian engineers expect the forced groundings to delay by three to six months the delivery of 787s to the Qantas Group, the first of which was scheduled to arrive in the second half of this year.

However, Qantas said it had no advice from Boeing to suggest that the planes would be delayed.

It comes as the industrial umpire put the onus on Qantas and its long-haul pilots to resolve differences in their long-running dispute. Fair Work Australia rejected the pilots' key demands over job security.

While favouring Qantas on matters such as rostering and union veto on flights beyond 14 hours, it did not give the airline all it sought in terms of productivity improvements.

The two sides have until February 12 to draft an agreement.

It is the last to be resolved of three disputes between Qantas and key parts of its workforce, which culminated in the dramatic grounding of the airline's entire fleet in late 2011.

In a major blow to Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded the Dreamliners because of a potential risk of fire from its batteries.

The drastic step followed an emergency landing of an All Nippon plane in Japan on Wednesday caused by a malfunctioning battery, just a week after a battery fire in a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.

Regulators from Europe to India and Japan followed the lead of their counterparts in the US in ordering the planes to remain on the ground. It is the first time the FAA has grounded an aircraft type since 1979, when it kept DC-10s on the tarmac.

Paul Cousins, the president of the Australian aircraft engineers' union, said he expected the problems besetting the Dreamliner to result in Qantas' budget offshoot, Jetstar, receiving its first 787s up to six months later. "Obviously it is going to set back Qantas. The FAA doesn't [ground] planes lightly," he said. "It seems clear at this point in time that they are unsafe."

But Qantas stuck by its earlier comments on Wednesday that it remains on track to receive the first Dreamliners in the second half of this year, and expressed confidence that the issues would be resolved.

Boeing also said it did not have any information to suggest the planes destined for Qantas would be delayed further. The plane is already more than three years' late.

Qatar Airways has said it will be the first to fly the 787 to Australia, but by Thursday night had declined to reveal whether the Dreamliner flights between its base in Doha and Perth would be postponed. The services were scheduled to begin on February 1.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the FAA had kept it fully informed but it did not have to express a position because the 787 was yet to be flown to Australia.

Qatar Airways and Air India are the only two foreign airlines which have approval to fly 787s to Australia.

Asia's largest airline, China Southern, is also considering whether to operate the 787s on routes to Australia but is not scheduled to take delivery of the first of 10 Dreamliners on order until late March.

Apart from the 15 787-8 Dreamliners destined for Jetstar, Qantas has purchase rights and options for 50 of the longer-range 787-9 aircraft, the first of which will not arrive until 2016.



WINGS CLIPPED

Top 10 orders

QANTAS 15

Air India 22

LAN Airlines 23

Air France KLM Group 25

Qatar 25

Air Canada 37

Japan Airlines 38

Etihad 41

United 44

All Nippon Airways 49



Timeline of safety failures

2012

DEC 4

United Airlines forced to make an emergency landing after electrical problems

DEC 13

Qatar Airways grounds a 787 after electrical problem

DEC 17

United reports an electrical problem in a second plane

2013

JAN 8

A fuel leak forced a 787 operated by Japan Airlines to cancel takeoff

JAN 9

All Nippon Airways cancelled domestic 787 flights due to brake problems

JAN 16

ANA's flight 692 is forced to make an emergency landing after smoke appears in the cockpit

JAN 17

US aviation regulator grounds the Boeing 787 Dreamliner