Polish LOT Dreamliners grounded until November

By bne IntelliNews February 18, 2013

bne -

LOT Polish Airlines said on February 14 that its two current Boeing 787 Dreamliners will remain grounded through October. The news is a further blow to the struggling flag carrier's attempts to restructure.

LOT president Sebastian Mikosz said he could not schedule the 787s for summer season flights as long as the cause of the technical problems has not been determined and the US aviation authorities' order to keep them grounded remains in force.

The news follows an announcement from the US plane maker last week that delivery of three more Dreamliners to LOT scheduled for this year has now been suspended, after the plane was grounded globally after some developed battery problems. Boeing is working to eliminate the potential safety threat, but that is likely to take months.

The situation will now force the Polish airline to extend the lease on three Boeing 767s that it currently uses, and to seek to lease two more of the older aircraft for the summer season, spokesman Marek Klucinski told AP.

The national airline was the first in Europe to operate the new jet, adding the fuel-efficient planes to fly its long-haul routes as part of a bid to cut costs and reduce losses. Struggling for several years, LOT's continued financial underperformance despite a revived restructuring drive in 2012 forced it to ask the state for yet another handout late last year.

The addition of the new passenger plane to the LOT fleet was also part of a plan to open up longer-distance routes to North America and Asia. LOT deputy CEO Tomasz Balcerzak said last month that the costs of keeping the two planes in sheds - one remains in Chicago, one in Warsaw, despite a claim from Klucinski that both are safe to fly - are "huge." The official said the airline plans to seek compensation from Boeing.

Balcerzak had also claimed in January that LOT still expected to receive three more Dreamliners by end of March. "The schedule is still in force," he said at the time. Lease extensions such as LOT is planning for its 767s would require an airline to operate the asset for at least one additional year, analysts told Bloomberg earlier this week.

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