It’s happened again. A Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire. This time it was at London’s Heathrow Airport. There were no passengers on board and no injuries, but this is the same type of aircraft that was grounded for four months in the U.S. last January. In those cases, batteries had caught fire on several planes.
It may or may not be the batteries this time, but right now it doesn’t matter. “At this point it feels like ‘what’s next’ and that’s not a good feeling for anyone involved -- airlines, passengers, or of course Boeing,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.
Ironically, passengers are the least of Boeing’s concerns. “The public has a very short term memory” when it comes to the airline industry, says Bob Herbst with Airlinefinancials.com. “You can go look at history, and a month or two after these problems for every airline they’re at new record load factors.”
The question is whether airlines want to put their name behind a model with problems. Aircraft orders have very long lead times, so most airlines who have ordered them will probably stick with them unless the problems are irresolvable. But future orders are up for grabs. “Right now if you’re an airline about to perhaps order some 787s, you’re aware of what’s happening and taking all of it into very careful consideration,” says Kaplan.
If the Dreamliners are grounded again, and that is an if, then the cost would start to mount, says Airlinefinancials.com’s Herbst. “It would have measurable financial consequences to Boeing," he says. You can get away with what happened once but I don’t think Boeing would get away with it again.”
It's not just because of potentially fewer orders, but Boeing would have to again pay airlines or lend them other planes. Herbst says they’d also have to pay airlines for grounded pilots who’d spent six to seven months training on Dreamliners.