Boeing will 'soon resume 787 deliveries' to Middle East and African airlines

Exclusive: US plane maker also pursuing opportunities for the Dreamliner in the region, says a senior Boeing executive

Dubai - November 12, 2011- The Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Dubai International Airport's Terminal 2 in Dubai, November 12, 2011. The curvature of the airliner's wings and the lightness of the composite materials used to make the plane allows it to get 20 percent better fuel economy than similar aircraft. The Dreamliner will be on display at this week's Dubai Air Show and it will leave on Thursday November 17. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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Boeing will soon resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner wide-body aircraft to airlines in the Middle East and Africa, following a pause of more than a year owing to manufacturing flaws, according to a senior Boeing executive in the region.

The US plane manufacturer restarted handovers to customers globally in August.

Boeing is scheduled to deliver a total of four or five 787 wide-bodies this year to Middle Eastern airlines, Omar Arekat, the company's vice president of commercial sales and marketing in the Middle East and Africa, told The National in an interview.

The resumption of deliveries “is a very important milestone; we've been co-ordinating with regulators to make sure it's back on track, safety is the most important element for us looking forward and we want to make sure it is safe”, Mr Arekat said.

“We're glad this is behind us now and we're back to delivering 787s … We have a number of customers that we are looking forward to delivering the 787s that have been delayed,” he said.

Qatar Airways will get deliveries of 787-9 aircraft this year, becoming the first airline in the region to receive shipments of the Dreamliner following the lifting of delivery suspensions, Mr Arekat said.

In 2023, a number of airline customers in the Middle East and Africa will take delivery of their 787 wide-bodies, including Ethiopian Airlines and Egyptair.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways will also receive deliveries of 787-9s and the larger 787-10 variant next year.

Bahrain's Gulf Air, which operates a total of seven 787-9s, will be taking delivery of three more jets over a period starting next year.

“We are pursuing a couple of new opportunities in the region for the 787 and when it's the right time we can be at liberty to discuss it,” Mr Arekat said.

Boeing had resumed 787 deliveries in August this year, following a nearly two-year halt by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), since May 2021, owing to technical snags.

Deliveries restarted after “thorough engineering analysis, verification and rework activities to ensure all airplanes conform to Boeing’s exacting specifications and regulatory requirements”, the Arlington, Virginia-based plane maker said at the time.

The resumption of shipments will mark a financial turnaround for Boeing after years of operational lapses that have frustrated customers, suppliers and investors.

Boeing 777X programme progress

Asked about progress on the long-delayed 777X passenger jet with entry into service slipping to 2025, Mr Arekat said Boeing is working with aviation regulators and airlines to make sure it has the “best product available” within the time frame.

The jet was originally scheduled to enter service in 2020.

“We continue to work with global regulators on the certification of the 777-9, we firmly believe that we have a path towards getting the certification and we believe we can achieve entry into service for the 777-9 by mid-2025,” he said.

“Right now from where we are sitting, we don't anticipate any delays based on the current schedule we are targeting.”

Dubai-based Emirates Airline has repeatedly criticised the plane maker over delivery delays.

Emirates’ chief operating officer Adel Al Redha told The National last week said that a failure by Boeing to deliver 777X jets by mid-2025 would no longer be justifiable as the company has had plenty of time to work on tests and certification.

Omar Arekat, Boeing's vice president of commercial sales and marketing in the Middle East and Africa. Photo: Boeing

737 Max opportunities

Asked if there were any regional takers for the 737 Max jets that Boeing has sought to offload from mainland Chinese carriers, Mr Arekat said that the narrow-body workhorse has a backlog sold out through to 2025 to 2026.

The company is pursuing a “number of opportunities” for the 737 Max in the Middle East and Africa, he said.

“We have the right baseline and right platform to grow from,” Mr Arekat said.

“There has been a lot of interest expressed in acquiring or adding the Max to potential airlines' fleet.”

Regional customers include flydubai, Qatar Airways, Oman Air, Ethiopian Airlines and Royal Air Maroc.

Supply chain woes

With airlines around the world seeking modern, fuel-efficient aircraft to meet the surge in air travel demand following the Covid-19 pandemic, lingering supply chain issues have continued to plague the aviation industry.

This has hampered aircraft production by major manufacturers and caused jet delivery delays.

“The whole ecosystem for our industry has been impacted,” Mr Arekat said.

“The supply chain is something we are watching very carefully, we are connecting with our suppliers to make sure they have access to the right resources.”

“There is an effect we're seeing today on production,” Mr Arekat said, adding that Boeing and its suppliers are taking steps to mitigate it and that the “capacity shortage will be recovered in a timely fashion”.

“This is a considerable issue and it is the limiting factor for our industry production, we know the demand is there and the market is there, it's just that supply cannot catch up,” he said, citing the pandemic, an industry workforce shrunk by the crisis and a sudden rebound in travel demand.

Resolving this bottleneck will depend on whether or not demand continues to grow at the same pace and if the manufacturing capacity can catch up quickly, Mr Arekat said.

'Resilient' jet demand

Asked about the impact of looming recession fears, inflation and higher oil prices on airlines' demand for new aircraft, Mr Arekat said that while the industry has always been “sensitive” to economic changes, it remains “resilient”.

“The industry has shrunk in terms of supply during the pandemic and now we are talking about not being able to catch up to demand, so we're already behind in terms of providing the capacity required by the market,” he said.

“There might be an economic slowdown that would have an impact on airlines but I believe this would be short-term,” Mr Arekat said.

“But if you look in the medium- to long-term, our industry is heading in the right path.”

A major challenge ahead for the aviation industry will be finding ways to “commercialise” the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) with the least disruption to infrastructure, Mr Arekat said.

As airlines seek to meet their net-zero carbon goals by 2050, the near-term solution to reduce their carbon footprint lies in increasing the use of SAF by raising production volumes and reducing its prices, according to Mr Arekat.

“We need to have collaborative efforts between the airlines, the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], airports, government bodies, regulators and other experts to make sure we have the funding channel for [SAF] so that it is available abundantly.”

Updated: November 18, 2022, 4:30 AM
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