It’s been 4,329 days since Qantas first inked its deal for the Boeing 787, but on this grey morning a Dreamliner dressed in the airline’s iconic ‘flying kangaroo’ livery soared into Sydney as the first member of what Qantas intends to be a steadily-growing fleet.
That initial order was announced in December 2005, almost 12 years ago, at a time when the Boeing 787 was a ‘paper airplane’ existing in only drawings. Boeing had yet to build the advanced jet, let alone fly it.
That first test flight happened in December 2009, after a series of delays and setbacks not unusual for the introduction of any new aircraft – let alone one as radical as the Dreamliner, with its carbon-fibre composite construction – and it wasn’t until September 2011 that global launch customer ANA collected the keys for the world’s first airline-ready Boeing 787-8.
Two years later, in October 2013, the Qantas Group took delivery of its first Boeing 787-8, but in the stripe of low-cost airline Jetstar rather than the parent brand.
Behind Qantas' Dreamliner delay
So why is it only now – with 11 Boeing 787-8s in the Jetstar fleet and the more modern 787-9 model being flown across Australia by some ten international airlines – that Qantas is taking ownership of what happens to be the 615th Boeing 787 to be delivered?
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller on board the Qantas Boeing 787-9, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says Boeing’s original delay was compounded by the global financial crisis.
“Qantas was very prudent on managing its balance sheet and making sure we could get through that” he reflects.
“We also had commitments with other aircraft that had to lead (the Boeing 787) such as the Airbus A380, which we took delivery of in 2008, and they were pretty expensive – we spent over $4 billion in replacing the old Boeing 747s with the A380s.
“So that had to become a priority, which meant we had to push the Boeing 787s out until we could afford them… and now with the airline doing so well we can certainly afford them.”
Two more Boeing 787-9s will arrive in December 2017, and another in late February 2018,
Earning their keep
The Dreamliners will begin earning their keep from December 15 2017 when they take over the Melbourne-Los Angeles route, but the kicker will be the March 2018 launch of non-stop flights between Perth and London – an 18 hour trek which will finally remove the need for a stopover hop from the Kangaroo Route between Australia and the UK.
That flight will join up with the LAX service in a sweeping arc from London to Perth to Melbourne to Los Angeles – a pattern which Joyce describes as four of the Dreamliners painting a ‘smile’ across half the planet.
The next two Boeing 787-9s – due for delivery in July and August 2018 – will take the Brisbane-Los Angeles-New York route under their wing, with Qantas’ other Sydney-LAX and Melbourne-LAX flights connecting to the New York-bound Dreamliner.
Before the end of 2018 another pair of Dreamliners – the last in Qantas' current eight-strong order – will open up a second Brisbane-US route.
Joyce says that route will either be Seattle, where Qantas will work with partner Alaska Airlines, or the Chicago or Dallas hubs of US partner American Airlines.
Up next: Perth to Paris
The next pins to drop onto the Dreamliner’s network map will be Paris and a German city, tipped to be Frankfurt, along with new routes to the US and perhaps Asia – but those flights won’t start until at least 2020, when Qantas will have the option to take up a second tranche of Boeing 787s from its 45-strong order book.
Joyce says those purchases will depend on the Boeing 787-9 proving its mettle, both in terms of delivering the promised efficiencies – which is in little doubt – as well as how passengers embrace the non-stop Perth-London service, which is central to Dreamliner’s role in Qantas.
David Flynn travelled on the delivery flight of the first Qantas Boeing 787-9 as a guest of Qantas