Almost 20 years after Qantas first ordered the Boeing 787 under then-CEO Geoff Dixon, the last of the red-tailed Dreamliners has arrived in Australia.
The 787-9, christened ‘Snowy River’, flew into Melbourne this morning after making the 16-hour trans-Pacific trek from Boeing’s plant at Everett, 40km north of Seattle.
(Ironically, it could be returning to Seattle on a regular basis if Qantas carries through with plans to begin direct flights to the Pacific Northwest city.)
It’s the last Dreamliners in a current fleet of 14, and like its two predecessors has actually spent the better part of two years in hibernation at a dedicated aircraft storage facility in Victorville, California when their intended delivery in 2020 was delayed by the global pandemic.
The ‘Snowy River’ will quickly be pressed into service as Qantas races to bring its international capacity back to pre-pandemic levels by March 2024.
This will include the return of the final Airbus A380s; those superjumbo and the boosted 787 fleet will free up more Airbus A330s, especially those needed on Australia’s east-west routes.
Those twin-aisle jets with their 1-2-1 business class flatbeds are a vital weapon in Qantas’ battle with Virgin Australia, given the arch-rival’s fleet is limited to the Boeing 737 and its more conventional two-abreast recliners.
“We do want to put more A330s onto east-west,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Perth ratio station 6PR earlier this year.
“We’re the only airline now that flies wide-bodies on east-west… we have put more on in recent months but at the moment because our A380s are taking a while to reactivate, the A330s are being used to help grow international operations.”
“Eventually as the A380s come back into operation we’ll be bring those (A330s) back onto the domestic operation to upgrade services between the east and the west.”
More Dreamliners on the way?
Melbourne-Singapore will see a Boeing 787 most days of the week beginning in August, and Qantas has also cited Paris, Chicago and Seattle as potential new 787 routes.
Might Qantas draw the line at these 14 Dreamliners, or could more be headed into the hangars?
When Qantas and Boeing signed on the dotted line in December 2005 it was for a package deal of up to 115 jets, partnering 45 ‘firm orders’ with 70 more in options and purchase rights.
While the 787s helped replace the ageing and fuel-thirsty Boeing 747 jumbo jets, at one stage they were also slated to take over from the Airbus A330 on domestic routes.
However, as Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller in 2017 , “our thinking has evolved… while the 787s as with the A330s are pretty powerful, they are over-spec’d" for domestic flights, “so the economics do not work.”
That could change in the coming years, with Qantas now preparing to retire its 24 A330s in favour of fresh mid-sized jets which will take domestic and international routes under their wings.
Qantas chief financial officer and CEO-designate Vanessa Hudson says the call will go out “in the second half of this year”; Airbus is expected to put forward its next-gen A330neo aircraft as a like-for-like replacement, while Boeing will steer Qantas towards the 787 Dreamliner.