- Qatar Airways flies four 787 Dreamliners 15,000 miles with no passengers on board
- The planes flew from the United States to Doha and then back to the US less than 10-hours later
- Now in California where they are expected to be fitted out with cabin products
- Claims Boeing sent the planes to Doha to show four completed deliveries before end of the year
Qatar Airways and aircraft manufacturer Boeing are facing fierce criticism from environmentalists after it emerged four brand new 787 Dreamliner aircraft were flown 15,000 miles without any passengers on board. The bizarre set of flights started routinely enough on Friday when a convoy of the newly delivered 787-9 series Dreamliners were dispatched from Boeing’s Everett delivery centre near Seattle for the 7,300-mile 14-hour flight to Doha.
It’s perfectly normal for delivery flights to depart without any passengers (or just a few select guests) but the circumstances surrounding the delivery of these 787’s took a strange turn on Saturday. Less than 10 hours after arriving in Qatar, the four Dreamliners took off from Doha on a return flight to the United States.
This time, however, the convoy was bound for the Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) in Victorville near Los Angeles – an 8,285-mile flight from the Qatari capital. In contrast, the direct flight from Everett to Victorville is less than 1,000 miles.
SCLA is a massive 5,000-acre aviation and industrial centre which is home to a number of specialist ‘maintenance, repair and overhaul’ companies. It’s believed the Qatar Airways 787’s are headed to SCLA to be fitted out with cabin products such as IFE or perhaps even its Business Class ‘Qsuite’ seats.
So why did Qatar Airways and Boeing opt for this bizarre routing to get the Dreamliners to Victorville?
Qatar Airways has a total of 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners on order and in October the airline revealed that the first finished plane were ready to be delivered. Unfortunately, Akbar Al Baker the chief executive of Qatar Airways said he had been forced to delay that delivery because a modified version of the QSuite seat wasn’t quite ready.
At present, the carrier’s lauded QSuite product features on some Boeing 777’s and Airbus A350 aircraft – it will also debut on the Dreamliner with the first 787-9 delivery. But because the Dreamliner has a narrower fuselage, the airline has been designing a modified QSuite which will fit in the smaller space. Qatar Airways hasn’t said what modifications are being made to the seat but has admitted that it’s taken them longer than expected.
Boeing now appears to have quite a few 787-9’s belonging to Qatar Airways backing up at its Everett production facility and wants to get rid of them. Since the first convoy of four Dreamliners left yesterday, a second set of three 787’s has also flown the 7,300-mile journey to Doha before turning around a short time later and heading to Victorville.
While we don’t know exactly why Boeing decided to dispatch these planes to Doha, the timing just before the end of the year has led to speculation that the embattled aircraft manufacturer is trying to boost its delivery figures in what has been a tumultuous and some might say a disastrous year.
A couple of months ago, Qatar Airways faced further criticism when it operated a nine-minute 24-mile cargo flight between Maastricht and Liege. The airline normally operates a special cargo flight using a Boeing 777 from Doha to Liege and onwards to Mexico City – but Qatar Airways said it had decided to add an additional stop because a private client had requested cargo be dropped off in Maastricht.
As the runway isn’t long enough for the Boeing 777 to takeoff with all the fuel it would need to get to Mexico City, the airline said it had to make a brief stop in Liege to top up on fuel.
Qatar Airways hasn’t announced any major carbon offsetting programme or other environmental plans unlike some rivals but in its latest annual report, the airline said it “supports the international aviation industry’s climate change goals”. The carrier’s relatively young fleet is also considerably more fuel-efficient than some competitors who fly significantly older aircraft.
Australian flag-carrier Qantas also faced criticism when it rerouted Boeing 787 Dreamliner delivery flights for its ‘Project Sunrise’ test flights. In response to mounting criticism, the airline said it would fully carbon offset all of the test flights.