Airlines Stick With Boeing 787, Despite Growing Problems

Thursday, 17 Jan 2013 | 1:54 PM ET
Boeing, Boeing Gone!
CNBC's Phil LeBeau has the latest details on the FAA's decision to ground Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

One day after the FAA and aviation authorities around the world grounded the 787 Dreamliner, essentially saying it is not safe to fly, Boeing customers are standing by the beleaguered plane.

From Korean Air to LOT Airlines out of Poland, many of the 57 customers that have ordered a Dreamliner are reaffirming their plans to wait for their 787, even if they face the possibility of even more delays. (Read More: US, Others Ground Boeing Dreamliner Indefinitely.)

Why are airlines sticking instead of running from the Dreamliner? It comes down to two reasons: faith in Boeing and a lack of options. (Read More: 787 Design Flaw Could Be Serious Trouble for Boeing: Aviation Expert.)

Faith in Boeing

Ever since All Nippon Airways ordered the first 787 back in 2006, airline executives have been eagerly anticipating the Dreamliner and for good reason. In an industry saddled with aging, gas guzzling planes, the fuel and cost efficiency of the Dreamliner has been tantalizing. Even as the 787 fell behind schedule during development, it was the promise of ultimately getting new, fuel efficient planes that kept those airlines on the order book.

Many are longtime Boeing customers who have worked closely with the plane maker over the years. They know Boeing and Boeing knows them. Those relationships have often been the glue that kept airlines from straying as the 787 ran into delays.

Those airlines are also being briefed by Boeing on a regular basis. They know Boeing executives, engineers and staff members. Also for many of those airlines, there is the belief Boeing will eventually get the Dreamliner back in the air. (Read More: Feds Defend Dreamliner Despite Safety Review.)

ANA and Japan Airlines Co. (JAL), the world's largest users of Boeing Co. 787 jets, grounded their entire fleet of Dreamliners in the biggest blow yet to the troubled passenger jet's image.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images
ANA and Japan Airlines Co. (JAL), the world's largest users of Boeing Co. 787 jets, grounded their entire fleet of Dreamliners in the biggest blow yet to the troubled passenger jet's image.

"Boeing has always been candid. They have never been withdrawn with discussing the facts," said former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune. "I don't believe Boeing agrees with the FAA to the severity of this problem, but never the less it's going to get it resolved and I think relatively quickly."

Lack of Options

Even if airlines currently scheduled to get a Dreamliner in 2015 or 2016 decided they no longer wanted the 787, their choices are limited. They could cancel their orders, but then what would they do? (Read more: Japan: The Test Case for Boeing's Dreamliner Woes?)

"Cancelling your airplane orders is a big deal because you do your planning years in advance," Bethune said. "This is way premature to be talking about cancelling orders of airplanes in out years. It is an issue, it will get resolved, how quickly it gets resolved is going to be a measure of its success."

Also, the reason airlines ordered the Dreamliner in the first place was to have newer, more cost effective planes replace their older, less efficient models. If the airline drops its Boeing order and goes to Airbus, it may have to wait even longer to get the A350 because airbus has its own, lengthy backlog of orders. (Read More: Airbus Beaten by Boeing as Orders Plunge.)

Which raises the question, would it make sense for airlines to cancel their Dreamliner order? At this point, the answer for many is no.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau; Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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