It was more than just the blue skies and hot weather that contrasted Boeing 787-8 test aircraft ZB002’s arrival in Australia on Monday with its stop over in New Zealand on the weekend.
Boeing has chosen Alice Springs as the location for hot weather testing as part of the 787-9’s flight test program, and rather than fly the aircraft direct to Australia, flew ZB002 via Auckland where it could be shown to launch operator Air New Zealand. That was a chance for the airline’s CEO, pilots and other staff to look over an aircraft that will join the Air NZ fleet from this July. ZB002 might have touched down at Auckland – the first time a 787-9 had landed anywhere outside of the US – on Saturday evening in the gathering gloom of darkness and was then shown to Air New Zealand staff and media in an Air NZ engineering hangar the following day to ward off the forecast rain showers, but it was an otherwise warm reception for an aircraft that will soon form an important part of the kiwi flag carrier’s international fleet.
In contrast, while the 787-9’s visit to Australia is generating much interest in Alice Springs, where it landed on Monday afternoon after transiting Brisbane to clear customs, there was no show and tell with the 787-9’s Australian customer – Qantas.
Indeed Qantas would probably preferred the 787-9 had not visited Australia, as its arrival only serves to draw attention to the fact that Qantas cancelled firm orders for no fewer than 35 787-9s in August 2012 as part of efforts to wind back capital expenditure in the face of financial losses. With that cancellation Qantas has no 787-9 firm orders but it does have options and purchase rights for up to 50 787s (either -9s or -8s). Qantas has said it need not make a decision on converting those options to firm orders until 2015 and has said it would only do so should its international operations return to profitability. But that was before last month’s revelation that Qantas is on track to post record losses this current financial year, that it is sacking further staff to cut costs, and that it is considering asset sales to raise cash. So ordering new aeroplanes, even aircraft as capable and seemingly as suited to Qantas as the 787-9, seems an unlikely prospect in the next few years.
The Qantas Group was at one time the largest airline customer for the 787, but with only 14 787-8s for Jetstar on firm order and the prospect of any 787-9 firm orders in the near future receding, it’s probably no surprise that Qantas and Boeing elected not to bring the 787-9 to Sydney for a show and tell as part of its Australian visit.
The 787-9 has come to Australia in search of hot weather, but it has landed in Australia amidst what is a perfect storm for Qantas. How well Qantas rides out that storm will determine if the 787-9 returns to Australia with a flying kangaroo on its tail.