airbus a350

According to reports coming from the Wall St Journal, British Airways is close to placing a significant order for the new Airbus A350. If true, it will be a major coup for the European manufacturer and a source of great disappointment, and perhaps a little worry, for Boeing.

Although British Airways has ordered 12 Airbus A380, the airline has traditionally been seen as a key customer of Boeing. British Airways is still the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747, with over 50 in its fleet, as well as 46 777-200′s, 6 777-300′s and 21 767-300′s.

British Airways 787 Dreamliner

British Airways 787 Dreamliner

Many of these aircraft are getting on in age however and British Airways is in the process of a major fleet renewal program. Aside from its 12 Airbus A380′s on order, British Airways has so far taken delivery of 6 Boeing 777-300′s and placed an order for 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, split between the 8 & 9 series models. Most industry observers therefore expected any new British Airways to be for further 787′s and / or 777-300′s, or perhaps even as a launch customer for the new 777-x although this last model hasn’t even been formally offered by Boeing yet and wouldn’t be available until 2019 or 2020 at the earliest; the past delays and current problems with the 787 may have made British Airways more than just a bit nervous.

If British Airways is to order to the Airbus A350 it is likely to focus on the 1000 series, the largest of the 3 models. The A350 is of a similar size to the Boeing 777-300 and will be viewed as a natural successor to the 747 on routes where the A380 is too large; the A350-1000 and 777-300 don’t have the same passenger capacity as the 747 but are far more fuel efficient. The 24 Boeing 787′s that British Airways has ordered will replace the older 767′s and 777-200′s in its fleet which probably leaves space for an order of around 30 further aircraft, possibly split between the 787, A350 and even, still, the new 777-x.

British Airways A380

Within the last 24hrs, Boeing have announced that they expect their 787 Dreamliner to return to the skies ‘within weeks’ - even though they still can’t say for sure what caused recent problems with batteries overheating.

A lovely BA plane in flight

British Airways Dreamliner

The 787 is ground-breaking in many way ways, not least for its use of lithium-ion batteries which are much lighter and more efficient than anything else currently in use.  Michael Sinnett, Boeing’s chief project engineer for the 787 claims that the company has come up with a solution to prevent any future over-heating of the battery as well as ensure that, even if it did, the problem was safely contained. He was speaking in Japan where around half of the current operational 787s are based, with both All Nippon & JAL; in addition, around 25% of the aircraft is also made in Japan, including the batteries.

The 787 has been grounded around the world since January and Boeing, together with its many existing and future operators of the aircraft, such as British Airways, have been desperate to find a fix to the problem. For All Nippon, easily the current largest operator of the aircraft, it has meant significant losses, while for future customers, such as TUI, it has led to a degree of embarrassment as well as a scramble to scrub down older 767s.

However confident Boeing are about their fixes, and no matter how keen British Airways and other airlines are to get the aircraft back in the air, nothing will happen until the American FAA renews the 787′s air worthiness certificate, something they won’t do until every single box has been ticked.

British Airways has orders for 24 Dreamliners, split between 8 of the 787-8 model and 16 of the slightly larger 787-9 model.  Deliveries of the 787-8 model are set to begin this year and, almost certainly, will be used to replace the airline’s oldest 767 aircraft on flights to the east coast of the USA. However, it is the later arrival of the 787-9 model (no date yet announced) that is far more exciting for the airline; with its new slots at Heathrow, British Airways will be looking to tap into growing long-haul destinations that can’t yet support the larger 777 or 747 and which would not have been financially viable with the gas guzzling 767. Such destinations might include Santiago de Chile & Bogota in South America, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta in South East Asia together with numerous secondary cities in mainland China.

787 Layout