In a depressing sign of the times, Qantas recently put a new 787 Dreamliner straight into storage. Qantas received the spanking new Boeing 787-9 in Victorville, California, on November the 13th, the delivery bringing its Dreamliner fleet up to 12.
Aviation photographer Jennifer Schuld snagged a photo of this, posting the 787-9 VH-ZNN’s arrival on Twitter.
Brand new Qantas 787-9 VH-ZNN was ferried from Everett to Victorville today for storage pic.twitter.com/jNDj3VHcPp
— Jennifer Schuld (@JenSchuld) November 12, 2020
However, instead of trumpeting the naked jet’s arrival, or putting it straight into service, Qantas put the 787 straight on ice. As reported by Simple Flying, “Qantas has quietly ferried the new plane to Victorville, where it will join the majority of the Qantas Dreamliner fleet in hibernation.” The jet had come from Seattle’s KPAE airport, where it had undergone testing the day prior.
The images sparked questions over Qantas’ plan for the jet, with one Twitter user pointing out the following.
“No livery except for the tail. No Qantas wording and the body kept clean… for resale?”
Other users said this was a heartbreaking moment, writing comments like, “singularly devastating” and “a dreadful sign of the times.”
Brand new and straight into storage. Just sad. British Airways have literally dozens of A320s parked.
— Paul Turner (@Pauldasilva67) November 12, 2020
Schulz told DMARGE, “They are almost always fully painted when they are delivered. This one was ferried to Victorville for storage, and there is a paint hangar there, so I’m assuming it will be painted in Victorville before Qantas takes it home, whenever that may be.”
Rico Merkert, USYD Professor of Transport and Supply Chain Management told DMARGE, “It is not normal to put white label planes straight into storage but what is Qantas supposed to do? Alan Joyce announced yesterday that Qantas is not planning to fly to Europe or the US before the end of next year. So what should they do with those long-haul aircraft until then other than putting them into storage or sell (perhaps, as part of a sale and leaseback deal)?”
“Out of their Dreamliner fleet, they are currently operating only three with the rest being in hibernation. Some of their B787s have been sold and leased back earlier this year which has provided Qantas with a boost to its liquidity.”
Though Merkert told us Qantas “may try to sell this one too,” the airline has not made any indication this is the case.
As a Qantas pilot told DMARGE earlier this year, even if airlines look to offload jets, it’s not the easiest time to sell them.
“I’m not sure there’s actually a market for used airlines at present given the financial stress most airlines are under.”
Reporting by Business Recorder also suggests this ‘sale theory’ is not necessarily on the money, and that the California delivery is simply part of Qantas’ publically stated pandemic plan.
“As the carrier predicts a significant decrease in travel demand for an extended period of time, it announced that it will be moving several of its Boeing 787s from Australia to service in the United States,” Business Recorder reports.
“From September onwards, most of Qantas’ 787 fleet will be flown to Victorville, California, where they will join Qantas Airbus A380s and other aircraft carriers to wait for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A Qantas spokesperson has also explained, according to Business Recorder, that “the humidity in California is much lower than in Australia, so it’s much better for long-term storage of aircraft – the same reason why we’ve moved our A380s there.”
Further photos have emerged in more recent weeks of planes at the same ‘boneyard,’ which appear to back up these claims. On December the 5th professional aviation photographer Vincenzo Pace posted an image to Instagram of a Qantas A380 “guarded by the wings of her sisters…as they await that magical day when they all return to the skies,” also in Victorville.
His images have attracted similar comments to Schulz’s, with users writing such remarks as, “Stunning yet sad!” and “Unimaginable to have our latest tech stored like this.”
Qantas was ‘economising’ its fleet well before the pandemic. Though it retired its ‘Queen of the Skies’ 747 fleet earlier than planned thanks to The Bat Kiss, the decision to end the era this year had already been made.
Now though, thanks to the dearth of demand, this ‘economisation’ has increased significantly.
Now even new 787s are being safely stored away, awaiting brighter days. According to Simple Flying, “Of the 14 Dreamliners Qantas had ordered, just three are retained in active service in Australia.”
Experts have predicted the aviation industry will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. One look at the Alice Springs plane boneyard (and the ‘naked’ aforementioned Qantas jets in Victorville) and you see the impact this is having on the industry – and a visceral reminder of its vulnerability when demand is low.
Qantas’ ‘sneakerhead’ attitude to this new 787 delivery also comes amid something of a renaissance in smaller aircraft, with Air Transat recently setting the record for the world’s longest flight in a single-aisle aircraft.
It also comes after Singapore Airlines recently deemed seven of its once mighty A380s “surplus to requirements.”
The turbulent year continues.