With just a couple days left in the year both Boeing and Airbus are pushing to make their final deliveries, juicing the numbers and booking the revenue. But not all of the planes are complete. In particular, Qatar Airways‘s new 787-9 Dreamliners still need the new QSuite business class seats and inflight wifi solution installed. And that creates a problem, one that the airline and Boeing appear to have solved in a most unfortunate manner.
On Thursday evening Qatar Airways took delivery of four Dreamliners (A7-BHA/B/D/E). On Saturday another three (A7-BHC/F/G) made the transatlantic jump. But the second three managed to pass the original four en route, just going the opposite direction. Immediately after arriving in Doha the planes turned around, returning to the USA. The destination is Victorville where they will be stored until they’re really ready for service.
Yes, it is ridiculous to fly more than 15,000 miles for a trip that is less than 1,000. But this is aviation and stupid things happen. The problem this time is that the stupidity was optional.
Contracts, exports and regulations
Signing the papers and wiring the funds can cover the contractual aspects of the delivery, but with aircraft and especially international sales things get more complicated. The planes are being exported from the USA as part of the deal. That means they need to actually leave the USA. And they’re registered in Qatar. That cannot be accomplished just by painting the A7- registration on the side of the fuselage. The aircraft must be in Qatar for the registration to be legit. Never mind that the two are 7,500 miles apart.
This is not the first time an aircraft flew a circuitous routing on delivery, though it may be one of the most egregious examples. An Air Arabia A320 nipped the corner of UK airspace en route from Germany to the Middle East a couple years, for example. And with Ireland a base for many aircraft leasing companies there are examples of planes passing through the country’s airspace during a delivery flight for regulatory and registration purposes.
But this version of that experience is a most preposterous one. With the aviation industry under fire – in some cases justifiably, in other cases not so much – for its contribution to carbon gas emissions this is a prime example of what not to do.
Cutting the companies some slack as the business class cabin seats are not installed and the planes are flying without passengers or bags, it is still likely that each aircraft consumed at least 40,000 kilograms of fuel each way or 80,000 kg for the round-trip visit. Multiply that by the seven planes that are definitely making the trip and the carbon impact is most unfortunate.
All of which comes back to the question of why this delivery absolutely had to happen this week. And, as is so often the case, the answer appears to be money.
A delivery obligation
When Qatar Airways ordered the planes it specified a delivery timing. Quite clearly that was in 2019. And because the delay in delivery is tied to “buyer furnished equipment” (i.e. the business class seats that Qatar Airways chose to source from its own supplier rather than via Boeing) it is still on the hook for meeting that deadline. An alternate solution that does not require flying the planes 14,000 extra miles would have been to delay the delivery date in the contract, but that creates other problems.
Boeing has production targets to meet to keep Wall Street happy. And this is a rough year to miss on the twin aisle numbers given the 737 MAX grounding and the company’s generally impaired financials associated with that. It is nice to think that a statement explaining that the planes are complete from Boeing’s obligations and that the delivery is being deferred to not unnecessarily burn hundreds of thousands of pounds of jet fuel would sate the traders and analysts pushing the stock price up and down, but that’s probably too simple a view of the world.
And so, instead of leaving the planes in Everett or just flying them to Victorville, the seven will make the trip the long way.
Maybe the two companies decided to use some biofuels to lower the impact. Maybe they’ll plant trees or otherwise offset the carbon emissions somehow. But at the end of the day those mitigation methods are far less effective than just not making the flights. Especially when the impetus for the trips is, essentially, to fix some paperwork that should be otherwise addressable.
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