Could the US Federal Government shutdown delay Boeing 787s for Qantas and Jetstar?

By John Walton, April 8 2011
Could the US Federal Government shutdown delay Boeing 787s for Qantas and Jetstar?

Update

The US Government has avoided a national shutdown after an eleventh-hour agreement was reached between Democrats and Republicans.

Previous

Australians may not be closely following the unfolding US political drama over government funding, but the impending shutdown of the United States Federal Government could have knock-on effects for Qantas and Jetstar.

The airlines' plans for the Boeing 787 aircraft that are still way back in Boeing's build queue could be delayed even further, according to US aviation industry analyst Jon Ostrower at Flightglobal.

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aircraft certification teams -- currently working on four separate Boeing aircraft -- will down tools if the shutdown goes ahead.

Unless a budget agreement is reached, the federal government will shut down on midnight Friday, Washington time: 2pm on Saturday in Sydney. At that point, US law prohibits the federal government from continuing to operate.

There is an essential services exemption, however. But while some parts of the FAA are critical (air traffic control, for example), the federally employed engineers currently analysing the results of Boeing's flight tests in advance of certification are not, an FAA official confirmed with the Washington Post newspaper.

That would mean that FAA personnel would stop work on certifying four Boeing programs: 

  • Boeing 737 with new CFM engines
  • Boeing 747-8F Freighter
  • Boeing 747-8I Intercontinental
  • Boeing 787

The worst affected are likely to be the 737 and 747-8F programmes, which are planned to finish testing sooner and therefore require certification from FAA staff earlier than the other two programmes.

But if the shutdown drags on for weeks or even months -- the 1995 shutdown dragged on from 16 December to 6 January -- Boeing's carefully timed and managed programme for 787 certification and delivery could well be under threat.

Qantas is still hoping to launch its 787 services in 2012, while Jetstar expects deliveries of its planes earlier in the same year.

Ahead of them in the queue is United, whose 787s are to be first deployed on a new route from Houston to Auckland, providing a useful link to the US for Star Alliance frequent flyers in Australia. Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand has ordered later stretched models.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


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