THE crisis enveloping Boeing's new flagship aircraft has deepened, with regulators around the world following the lead of US authorities in grounding the 787 Dreamliner.
Australian engineers expect this to delay by three to six months the delivery of 787s to Qantas, 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 the planes would be delayed.
It comes as the industrial umpire puts the onus on Qantas and its long-haul pilots to resolve a range of differences in their long-running dispute. Fair Work rejected the pilots' main demands over job security, but while favouring Qantas on matters such as rostering and union veto on flights beyond 14 hours, it did not give the airline everything it wanted in terms of productivity improvements.
The two sides have until February 12 to put together a draft agreement. It is the last of three disputes to be resolved between Qantas and key parts of its workforce, which culminated in the dramatic grounding of the airline's entire fleet in October 2011.
In a blow to Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded the Dreamliners because of a potential risk of fire from their batteries. The drastic step followed an emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways 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 the DC-10 on the tarmac.
The president of the Australian aircraft engineers' union, Paul Cousins, said he expected the problems besetting the Dreamliner to result in Qantas's budget offshoot, Jetstar, receiving its first 787s up to six months' later than the most recent delivery schedule.
"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 remained 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 aircraft are already more than three years' late.
Qatar Airways has said it will be the first to fly the 787 to Australia, but has so far declined to reveal whether those Dreamliner flights between Doha and Perth will 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 that 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 until late March.