Etihad Airways boss unhappy with mounting delays for Boeing jet deliveries

February arrival of airline's three new Dreamliners was eight months later than scheduled

An Etihad Airways Boeing 787. Boeing and Airbus are struggling to increase production to meet demand. Photo: Etihad
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Etihad Airways' chief executive has said jet delivery delays by US plane maker Boeing is hampering the airline's network growth plans, joining a chorus of global airline executives expressing frustration about supply chain woes during a continuing boom in travel demand.

The airline took delivery of three new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in February, eight months later than the scheduled handover date in June 2023, which has affected route network plans, Antonoaldo Neves told The National.

"We did all the checks we had to do and they’re working very well," the Etihad boss said.

"What we’re not happy with the 787s is the delays. So we have delays that are mounting on the 787s and that goes for Airbus as well."

The European plane maker has notified Etihad of some delays but these will "not compromise" the airline's plans, Mr Neves said, without elaborating on the revised timeline.

The airline chief holds a meeting with his team every week to review the fleet.

"We're paying a lot of attention to that. If you ask me what is my biggest concern today as far as our plans, it is aircraft availability," he said.

'Unacceptable' delivery delays

Mr Neves called on the plane makers to take action to address the delivery delays and to re-examine their internal work culture.

"It’s not acceptable to keep selling planes and not delivering planes. It’s deceiving. I think manufacturers need to look in the mirror," he said.

"My concern is the kind of culture you’re creating at your companies for the next 10 years once you allow delays as something that’s business as usual."

He compared this with a hypothetical scenario of an airline that would lose customers quickly if it consistently cancelled flights and had a poor on-time performance record.

Mr Neves urged aircraft manufacturers to stick to their delivery promises.

"They have to get back on track in terms of reliability for deliveries. For me, that’s the most important thing because that touches on quality and everything in the supply chain."

Moment Boeing 747 spits flames after takeoff in Miami

Moment Boeing 747 spits flames after takeoff in Miami

Etihad Airways had an operating fleet of 85 aircraft (including five freighters) as of the end of December, up from 71 jets at the end of 2022, according to its earnings statement on Wednesday.

While aircraft availability is an overall concern, the airline is in a "good position" because it is managing the situation by remaining agile, Mr Neves said.

Supply chain drama

Mr Neves's comments echo similar concerns raised by global airline executives about the supply-chain woes that continue to roil the aviation industry.

Last month, Australia's Qantas Airways said manufacturing delays have affected the delivery dates for its first first ultra long haul A350 by about six months, to mid-2026.

This will push back plans for its Project Sunrise, the start of non-stop services linking Sydney with New York and London, which will be the world’s longest direct commercial flights.

Last week, Emirates airline's president, Tim Clark, hinted at delivery delays for the first Boeing 777X jet. That is now due "probably at the back end of next year and maybe 2026, if we’re unlucky", Reuters reported Mr Clark saying at an event at the UK Aviation Club.

The plane-making duopoly of Boeing and Airbus is struggling to increase production quickly enough to meet soaring post-pandemic demand for new aircraft.

The aviation supply chain is facing several challenges including a shortage of parts, shortage of skilled workers, aircraft certification hold-ups and increased regulatory scrutiny on Boeing.

The US company's recovery from the high-profile near-disaster of a door panel flying off a 737 Max 9 jet mid-flight will take years as the manufacturer seeks to rebuild its reputation, regain the confidence of regulators and airlines, and put an end to the production glitches plaguing its commercial aircraft unit. analysts said.

"The Max is instrumental to Boeing's financial success with a current low rate of production tied to FAA oversight and audit, which has led to aircraft staying in position on the line longer than expected to institute fixes and integrate learnings," according to a research note from Jefferies on Monday.

For airlines, supply chain problems mean they cannot adequately meet the appetite for air travel, restraining growth and driving up ticket prices.

For Etihad, these global supply chain woes come as the airline continues to add new destinations and expand frequencies into key markets as part of its ambitious multi-year growth plan, Journey 2030, that it revealed in November 2023.

This calls for tripling the number of passengers to 30 million and doubling its fleet to 150 planes by the end of the decade as part of a strategy that reverses years of losses and restructuring, aided by its base at the new Terminal A in Zayed International Airport.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 6:47 AM