Sparks flying between Boeing and Kenya Airways


(eTN) – The recent announcement by Boeing stated that their first delivery of the B787 to their launch customers might well slip from late 2010 into early 2011. This has promptly caused added worries for airlines in Eastern Africa like Kenya Airways (KQ) and Ethiopian Airlines (ET), both of which had banked on having these state-of-the-art aircraft arriving much earlier in order to boost in-flight efficiencies and take advantage of lower operating costs and larger capacities.

In the past, Boeing has been accused of belittling, downplaying, and concealing problems with the development of their Dreamliner – now often dubbed the Nightmarer, considering the years of delays, cost overruns, and loss of reputation by Boeing in aviation circles over their problems with the B787.

While Ethiopian Airlines has already made firm arrangements with Airbus for delivery of new wide bodies, a first for ET, Kenya Airways is still apparently considering options, but a regular source from the company’s Embakasi Head Office has confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that not all is well in the relations between KQ and Boeing, letting it slip that unlike other airlines suffering from delivery delays, Kenya Airways apparently has not received meaningful offers of compensation for these delays, which has already cost the airline dearly.

KQ is on the proverbial prowl now that the global economy has shaped up again, and is currently embarking on an aggressive development of new routes, while also adding frequencies to their present destinations.

It is here that the delayed deliveries bite as the lack of aircraft and the continued use of existing older Boeing 767s, which operate at higher costs compared to younger aircraft, is impacting on the growth strategy of the airline and its profitability.

It is an open fact that the Kenya Airways management and board have been talking to Airbus about the purchase or lease of several A330s to bridge the gap caused by Boeing, which would signal a return to the European manufacturers after a prolonged Boeing-only period, which was infiltrated first by Saab turboprop aircraft and then by the purchase of Embraer jets, which already made KQ the largest African Embraer operator. In the past, KQ operated Airbus A310 aircraft but phased them out to go all Boeing for their long-haul fleet, a situation which could be reversed in the very near future when the company makes their final decision on the true financial and operational impact the fresh delay may bring for them.

Hurt feelings over being brushed aside by Boeing, as the word from Nairobi has it, over demands for compensation, may clearly not help the U- based manufacturer’s case. Until swift and comprehensive offers are put forward to KQ, the dice, already in the air, may fall the way of Airbus. In fact, at this stage, a cancellation of the B787 order is considered possible, should Boeing not make broad amends and extends substantive sweeteners to keep the orders on their books.

Partner airlines KLM and Air France are major Airbus operators already, and their technical expertise will undoubtedly help KQ, should they sign up for the A330s to retool their own maintenance facility at the Embakasi base, where they are approved MRO for Boeing aircraft. Again, Airbus is waiting at the wings to take advantage of an opportunity here by getting a foot in the door.

Meanwhile, the same source has also confirmed that KQ is trying to get more slots for added flights to London Heathrow, which presently operates daily but should, as traffic and demand grows, eventually go double daily and are currently restricted by available landing slots with only two extra traffic days firmed up so far.