Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 aircraft “shouldn’t have been grounded” and the overreaction by regulators has cost airlines severely, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has said.
He made the comments as the Gulf carrier returned the aircraft to service for the first time in three months on Wednesday.
The outspoken Doha-based CEO was also adamant he expected US manufacture Boeing to compensate the airline for the losses it had incurred and the impact it has had on its fast-paced expansion plans.
“The aircraft shouldn’t have been grounded,” Al Baker told reporters at a press conference in Dubai. “I think there was a reaction by the regulators because of the unnecessary emergency evacuation of the Japanese aircraft and unfortunately people today are more sensitive to what the social media say than to what should really be the fact of something like that.”
Boeing’s entire 787 fleet was grounded on January 16 after two lithium-ion battery meltdowns occurred on two jets from separate airlines within two weeks of each other.
US regulators approved a new battery design late last month, clearing the way for installation and a resumption of Dreamliner flights by airlines around the world. Last weekend, Ethiopian Airlines was the first carrier to resume flying the 787 aircraft.
Al Baker said the grounding of the fleet and the delay in deliveries of the aircraft has had a severe impact on the airline’s balance sheet and curtailed its 2013 expansion plans. As a result, he was expecting the Boeing to compensate the airline for its losses.
“I will get compensation as we took airplanes that we couldn’t fly and Boeing understands that and they are agreed to compensate not only Qatar Airways but everyone that have taken deliveries of the 787,” he said.
Qatar Airways, which was the first carrier in the Middle East to receive the 787, has 30 of the aircraft on order and an additional 30 on option. However, Al baker said the delivery of its aircraft had been delayed as a result of the battery complications.
“There is a delay on us getting the additional five aircraft. This delay has happened due to the delay in the certification. We were due to receive on aircraft in March, one aircraft in April, one aircraft in June, one aircraft in July and one aircraft in September. Now this delay has happened we will start receiving our aircraft from June.”
The delays have meant the Doha-based carrier, which currently flies to 120 destinations, will not be able to launch as many new routes this year as it had hoped.
“This is our big issue with Boeing: we have told them the grounding of the 787 really impacted our expansion severely. We have to claw back the new destinations we have launched and because we are not expanding it is impacting my bottom line. We were planning 15 new routes but now I will have to settle for 10 and I am very unhappy.”
With the relaunch of the 787 onto the Dubai route, the aircraft will go into service on the Heathrow route on May 20, to Munich on May 22, to Frankfurt on the 26th and on the transatlantic routes next year.
“People don’t need convincing [about the safety of the 787]; people have confidence in Boeing; we have confidence in Boeing. We wouldn’t be flying the airplane if it wasn’t safe. We would never put our passengers in an unsafe aircraft,” Al Baker said confidently of the beleaguered aircraft.