Northwest to Boeing: Deliver the 787 within spec

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SkyTeam member Northwest Airlines has sent a clear message to Boeing - deliver to the carrier 787s with the range and technical specifications that have been promised by the airframer.

The North American launch operator for the 787, Northwest was originally slated to begin taking deliveries of the twinjets in August of this year, but delays in the development programme have pushed first delivery to Northwest to the last quarter of 2009. The US major has 18 787s on firm order.

When first delivery occurs, Northwest will be looking for those aircraft to meet specifications, Northwest VP international marketing and sales Fred Deschamps said this week at the Boyd aviation forecast summit in Aspen. "We need the full range and the full efficiency."

Deschamps said he believes 787 launch operator All Nippon Airways has more leeway to accept its initial 787 deliveries outside of the original specifications. He did not expound on this comment.

Boeing's publicly listed performance data for the 787-8 shows a range spread of 7,650nm (14,200km) to 8,200nm. However in announcing last month that Airbus will make a higher-gross weight version of the A330-200 available in hopes of capturing new market share caused by 787 delays, Airbus investor marketing director Derek Davies claimed the range for the 787-8 would be limited to 6,720nm.

He said that Airbus has updated its analysis of the 787's performance specifications based on market intelligence and that it expects the first 20 787s to have a 2% higher fuel burn and "tonnes" of extra operating empty weight added to the baseline specification.

Asked whether initial 787 deliveries will meet Boeing's specifications, a Boeing spokesman today said: "For our customers, the ability to fly their missions is paramount and we're committed to making those airplanes meet those missions. We can't comment further on discussions that we may or may not be having with our customers."

Boeing will have more specific airplane performance data following flight testing, which is scheduled to occur during first quarter 2009. The Boeing spokesman adds: "We continue to focus on making our airplanes as efficient for our customers as they can be."

Meanwhile, there is growing concern among 787 launch customers that their much-delayed deliveries will again be rescheduled in light of the ongoing strike at Boeing's manufacturing plants in Seattle.

The current schedule calls for first delivery of the 787 in the third quarter of 2009, said Boeing Commercial Airplanes director of business strategy - marketing Richard Wynne, who was also in attendance at the Boyd conference.

Wynne did not indicate if this target is in jeopardy, but he did reference the current industrial action. "Did you hear that we're having a strike at Boeing," he said, noting that "clearly there is a communication issue between ourselves and the union".

Northwest, meanwhile, which is merging with Delta Air Lines, sees the 787 as a cornerstone to its long-haul strategy. The carrier had planned to use its first 787 to support the March 2009 launch of daily nonstop service from Detroit to Shanghai, but earlier this year also hinted at 787 flights to India and possibly Vietnam.

Boeing 747-400s will initially be deployed on the Detroit-Shanghai route instead. Northwest will also "use the opportunity of the [Delta] merger to reallocate the fleet types we have" to provide interim lift until the 787s are delivered, said Deschamps. He noted that the 777 and the 767 - types operated by Delta - are attractive aircraft.

Nonetheless, the merged Northwest/Delta is counting on delivery of 787s within-spec. "I don't think now we see a substitution for the 787 [with respect to] the range and efficiency. Right now, that aircraft remains the only aircraft for what we want to do," said Deschamps.