After months of negotiation over years of delays, the Indian government set the stage Friday for Boeing South Carolina to deliver its first Dreamliner.
Air India is now permitted to pick up its 787s, because ministers signed off on Boeing’s offered compensation for more than three years of delivery delays.
The state-owned airline ordered 27 of the composite jets in 2005. Three of them sit ready for pickup on the flight line at the North Charleston plant.
India’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the undisclosed proposal, according to a top Boeing official and a news release posted on the government’s Press Information Bureau website.
The first delivery won’t happen immediately, as several details must be worked out, said Dinesh Keskar, Boeing senior vice president of sales for Asia Pacific and India.
But, Keskar said, the CCEA’s decision on the compensation deal was “the final stage that we were waiting for.”
“So you’ll see me in Charleston very soon,” he said.
Keskar understands India’s ministers have other priorities in the developing nation of 1.2 billion people, but he said the official OK was “a long time coming, and I’m glad it’s over finally.”
Keskar said he had been following the progress of the compensation package, whose terms he declined to reveal, “every minute” since Air India agreed to it almost two months ago.
Earlier this year, Air India reportedly was seeking $1 billion in compensation, and Boeing was reported to have offered half that sum, which then Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh emphatically denied.
A smaller group of ministers approved it last week, setting up Friday’s action.
It was morning in Seattle when Keskar received calls from two Air India officials, including the airline’s chairman, after the evening Cabinet meeting halfway around the world.
He said he plans to speak with them again over the weekend and that he should know much more about the delivery time frame by Monday afternoon.
An Air India spokesman did not responded to a message seeking comment on the breakthrough.
Keskar denied Thursday reports out of India that the national carrier had pledged not to accept any planes until U.S. government investigators determine why one of its jets’ engines failed during a pre-flight taxi test in North Charleston on July 28.
“If they were going to tell anybody it would be me,” he said.
Air India has requested to be kept informed about the pending National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the incident, Keskar said, but the airline had not set any such precondition for delivery.
“They are aware of all this and they know we’re not going to deliver a plane that’s not fit for usage,” he said. Keskar noted that the NTSB has not grounded any GE-powered 787s, nor has it barred future deliveries.
The first S.C.-assembled plane and two flown in from Everett, Wash., all wearing Air India’s striking red and gold paint scheme, have been parked and poised for delivery for a month in North Charleston.
Keskar said Air India’s pilots and engineers had flown and checked out the two Everett jets while they were in Washington, but have not vetted the locally made plane.
That will likely take a few days once the Air India personnel arrive in North Charleston, Keskar said.
He emphasized that the deliveries will proceed on Air India’s schedule, but said they will likely happen one at a time, separated by seven to 10 days to allow the Indian delivery crew to return to South Carolina.
Meanwhile, the NTSB investigation continued into Saturday’s incident, in which hot shards expelled from the plane’s engine started a small fire near the runway and shut down Charleston International Airport for more than an hour.
The NTSB launched a formal investigation into the mishap Tuesday, and the agency’s team is now coordinating the disassembly and examination of the GEnx-1B engine at GE Aviation’s headquarters in Cincinnati. The plane’s so-called black box is being studied in an NTSB lab in Washington, D.C.
Keskar said “everybody’s anxious to get this thing resolved,” but the NTSB has not given a specific timeline for when it will release its conclusions or recommendations.
According to the Indian government announcement, the 787 approval Friday does not affect any future failure of the Dreamliners to meet performance guarantees.
Boeing has promised that the plastic composite jets will provide major fuel savings in addition to passenger comforts.
Air India’s Dreamliners were supposed to be delivered beginning in September 2008, the release said.
“However, due to certain design/production issues these aircraft have been delayed and are now scheduled to be delivered between June, 2012 to March, 2016,” it said.
With that in mind, Scott Hamilton of Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. isn’t rushing to book his flight to the Lowcountry.
“This has been a long, long slog for Boeing with its own challenges and then to wait for the Indian government and Air India’s pilots,” Hamilton wrote in an email. “Given the history, I will believe delivery when I see it.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.
and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_ brendan.
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