Poland's LOT looks for the positives as 787s prepare for (re)take off

By bne IntelliNews April 24, 2013

bne -

LOT Polish Airlines announced on April 23 that it hopes to have both its Boeing 787's back in the air in June - four months ahead of expectations - with another three planes due to now arrive in the coming months. The news is a rare piece of good news for LOT - the problematic new jets are the leading edge in the state-owned company's strategy to finally turn around years of losses - though the airline now admits it's at the back of the line of anxious customers.

LOT CEO Sebastian Mikosz told PAP that the carrier's current 787s will resume commercial flights to North America and China in early June, following repairs and test flights. Boeing announced on April 21 that although it has not found the root of the battery problems that have grounded the 787 globally since January, it has received approval from US authorities for the revamp it has come up with.

Mikosz also said that LOT will approach the US plane maker in mid-June over compensation for "hundreds of millions of zloty" it has lost due to the grounding of the planes, reports AP. That again may be more positive spin from the CEO. Boeing appeared in March to brush off suggestions of compensation, while Mikosz suggested to the Polish press that in return LOT had secured a place at the front of the line of airlines waiting to get their Dreamliners back up in the air.

However, on April 21 he was bitterly complaining to the international press that the Poles have actually been bumped to the back of the line. "My much bigger competitors will probably fly before us, which is quite a bitter pill to swallow," Mikosz said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "That's not how I imagined being treated."

The newspaper points out that LOT is the smallest of the eight airlines around the globe waiting to get their Dreamliners back in service. By way of contrast, Qatar Airways says it aims to commence regular service on its five jets before the end of April.

LOT's two current planes, stranded in Chicago and Warsaw at a reported cost of $50,000 per day, will have their batteries fixed in Ethiopia, where Boeing technicians are currently fixing the country's four 787s. A third 787 that LOT is now due to receive in May will have the new battery revamp installed, and will also enter service in June. Two more 787s are to join LOT's fleet in July and August. The Polish flag carrier was forced earlier this year to extend leases on older, less efficient Boeing 767s to cover the grounded Dreamliners.

LOT became the only airline in Europe to fly the high tech Dreamliner 787 last year. Ordering the highly efficient planes was the major element in a plan to open up new long haul routes while reducing rocketing fuel bills in a bid to finally turn the company's results around. The airline was forced to ask Warsaw for yet another bailout in December. The government handed over $400m, but sacked the CEO and made it abundantly clear that it's patience has run out, and that flag carrier or not, it will allow LOT to go to the wall rather than keep pumping in cash.

The treasury, which controls Polish state assets, last week rejected LOT's most recent restructuring plan, and said it would offer the company "help" to develop a better scheme. Little wonder therefore that Mikosz is pushing the positives in the Polish press. Back in February, he told reporters that will the planes would remain grounded until November, after the US supplier said that delivery of the three additional 787s had been suspended.

While US authorities have approved Boeing's battery fix, it has yet to get the green light in Europe. Mikosz said he was expecting the European aviation authorities to confirm the decision for LOT "within days."

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