With another delay to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner looming, United Airlines has postponed launching service from Houston to Auckland, New Zealand, the first North American flight slated to feature the ground-breaking jet
The new United had planned to launch those flights on Nov. 16, 2011, to be flown initially under the brand of merger partner Continental Airlines, said Julie King, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based carrier. But with uncertainty shrouding the 787’s commercial debut, the world’s largest airline decided to push back its New Zealand expansion effort to 2012.
Continental, which merged with United on Oct. 1, was slated to take delivery of eight 787s between August 2011 and September 2012, according to Ascend Worldwide Ltd., a United Kingdom-based market research firm specializing in aerospace and space data.
The cutting-edge plane figures large in expansion plans at United, which is headed by former Continental CEO Jeff Smisek, and which plans to absorb Continental as it integrates operations at the two carriers over the next two years.
But until it lands the first of its 50 Boeing 787-8s on order, Continental will fly Boeing 777s on another 787 route that it had slated for next November: Houston to Lagos, the largest city in oil-rich Nigeria, King said.
She wouldn’t discuss whether United is asking Boeing to compensate it for the delays. Continental, the U.S. launch customer for the jet, was originally supposed to receive its first 787 in March 2009.
The oft-delayed Dreamliner, which is nearly three years behind schedule, has proven a nightmare for airline schedule planners. The latest setback to the jet, the most technically advanced jetliner ever built, involves hardware and software issues brought to light by a Nov. 9 mid-air fire aboard Dreamliner #2 that left the stricken 787 to land under emergency power.
Boeing’s fleet of six flight-test aircraft has been indefinitely grounded while the Chicago-based airplane-maker designs and tests fixes to prevent another widespread electrical failure.
Boeing is still finalizing a master manufacturing and delivery schedule prompted by the latest problems, leaving early airline customers in limbo as they finalize flight schedules for next year. Analysts expect the latest delay to last anywhere from a few months to a year.
Boeing will have to retest every 787 component it redesigns and retrofit the 26 customer planes it has manufactured. Sources close to the program say that Boeing is mulling parking planes that require the greatest amount of re-work for now, and revising its delivery schedule so that early customers receive planes farther down the manufacturing schedule, which have many of the required design changes already built in.