Boeing could resume delivering its best-selling widebody jet, the 787, to airlines within weeks with American Airlines one of the first on queue after more than a year of delays.
American expects the first two of the 13 787s in August, Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr said during the carrier’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday. All of the aircraft were originally due last year. The airline expects seven more of the delayed planes by December, and the remaining four in 2023.
Resuming 787 deliveries is good news for Boeing. The planemaker has been largely unable to hand over models of the jet to airlines since early 2021 due to manufacturing quality issues raised by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Those delays cost Boeing $3.5 billion in non-cash charges last year, and it expects a further $2 billion — for at least $5.5 billion in total — in excess charges through 2023.
“Let’s just call it very close,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said of when 787 deliveries could resume at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK earlier this week. “Maybe the ninth inning of a ball game.”
Word at the air show was also that 787s could begin leaving the airframer’s North Charleston, S.C., factory for customers in August.
The delays have had an outsized impact on American, at least compared to other customers, due to its pandemic fleet changes. The carrier retired its Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s in 2020 to streamline its fleet and save on expenses, but also with the expectation that new 787s on order would arrive in 2021. They did not and, as a result, American was forced to cancel flights and cut routes to compensate.
The airline cut Hong Kong from its map in December due to the delays, though the city’s restrictive border controls likely played a factor. The resumption of seasonal summer flights to Edinburgh and Shannon, already suspended for two years because of the pandemic, were put off another year until 2023. And at least three other international routes to London Heathrow, Santiago, Chile, and Sydney were suspended for the majority of this year.
“Without these widebodies, we simply won’t be able to fly as much internationally as we had planned,” American Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said in a December memo.
American generated its first pandemic profit without the benefit of government aid despite the network cuts in the second quarter. It posted a net result of $476 million on record quarterly revenues of $13.4 billion. Demand for travel was robust, executives said, with key business travel revenues fully recovered. Its new 787s are scheduled to begin flying — and restoring some of the delayed or suspended routes — in November.
Other carriers, including Lufthansa and United Airlines, are also waiting for delayed 787s and other new aircraft. The former will reactivate eight of its giant Airbus A380s next year due to the “delayed delivery of ordered aircraft,” a move that could not have been taken lightly after it “permanently decommissioned” the planes earlier in the pandemic. Lufthansa is awaiting both 787s and Boeing’s also-delayed 777X that is not expected until early 2025 — or five years late.
On Thursday, United said it also expects 787 deliveries to resume before the end of the year with five aircraft due from Boeing.