ANALYSIS: No crisis for 787 despite big Qantas cancellation

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Boeing has suffered its largest Dreamliner cancellation so far after Qantas scrapped its firm order for 35 787-9s worth $8.5 billion, taking the cumulative cancellation tally beyond 200.

However, with the move to terminate the Dreamliners on order for its mainline division being triggered by the Australian flag carrier's financial woes, the cancellation is not seen as having any major repercussions for the 787 programme.

Boeing secured the landmark 787 order from Qantas back in December 2005 with a deal for 65 aircraft for its mainline and Jetstar operations, when the Dreamliner saw off the rival Airbus A350 in an intense sales campaign. The Dreamliner was selected "as the cornerstone of Qantas's domestic and international fleet renewal programme".

At the time, Airbus was offering the old A330-dervived A350 and the loss of Qantas to the 787 likely helped spur Toulouse's decision to adopt the all-new XWB design.

Qantas was originally due to receive its first 787-8s in July 2009 - around a year after the first Jetstar delivery - with the first -9s schedule for 2011. But the extensive programme delays led to Qantas cancelling its first 15 orders in 2009, by which time the deliveries had been subject to extensive rescheduling.

The first Jetstar 787-8 is now due to arrive in 2013 and Qantas has accelerated 50 787-9 options/purchase rights by two years, with deliveries available from 2016.

Eddy Pieniazek, who is director of consultancy at Flightglobal's advisory arm Ascend, says the 787 delays will have helped Qantas to extract itself from its contract: "Because of the delays, Qantas probably hasn't been as far into the pre-delivery payment schedule as it could have been. The delays may have allowed Qantas the option to cancel and recover pre-delivery payments and compensation without too much of a penalty."

And despite its size, the cancellation is unlikely have any major impact on the 787 programme: "Although the Qantas cancellation is a big number, it's not happened because the aircraft isn't performing, so we don't see any major repercussions," says Pieniazek. "Boeing has over 800 deliveries to work through and we could even see Qantas or Jetstar coming back for more later in the programme. Qantas still have 50 options, they will be back."

The 787 has accumulated 216 cancellations since the first in 2009, which have mainly come after airlines adjusted capacity growth/fleet replacement plans in the wake of the delivery delays.

Other major airline 787 terminations include 15 each by S7 Airlines and China Eastern Airlines as well as lessors LCAL (16), DAE (15) and ALAFCO (14). Additionally an undisclosed customer, believed to be RBS Aviation Capital, cancelled 25 orders in 2009. With the Qantas cancellation, total 787 net orders now stand at 824 aircraft.