MIAMI – Air Italy has shelved its initial plans to equip its long-haul fleet with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners in favor of streamlining its operations to a potential all-Airbus fleet.

Boeing 787 deliveries have suffered delays due to the major Rolls-Royce Trent engine mechanical issue that forced the grounding of hundreds of aircraft last year.

Since then, the engine maker has settled compensation claims with all its customers. As reported by the Financial Times, Rolls-Royce raised its cash cost estimate of the Trent 1000 program by almost £100 million, to about £1.5bn between 2017 and 2021.

These engine woes have forced Rolls-Royce to delay delivering brand-new power plants to Boeing, therefore causing inherent delays on airplane deliveries to customers like Qatar Airways, which was expecting to phase out its Airbus A330 fleet as the new Dreamliners joined in.

“The 787-8s Air Italy was due to take delivery of were being leased directly from Qatar Airways,” explained Rossen Dimitrov, Air Italy’s CEO, to the Aviation Analyst.

“However, the delivery of those jets can only take place after Qatar Airways receive their brand new 787-9 Dreamliners from Boeing — which are delayed, due to Boeing’s supply chain issues, and a worldwide engine shortage.”

Dimitrov revealed that, because of this, Air Italy has decided to commit to an all-Airbus long-haul fleet with the A330-200.

Photo: Ed Pascuzzi

The delivery of two more A330s for the Italian carrier is expected to happen within the next 12 months. Dimitrov said that with this decision, the airline will establish consistency in the current branding and product that’s installed on the five A330s in the carrier’s fleet.

“We don’t want to create confusion in our product, and this aircraft is proving to be perfect for us,” added Dimitrov. “We’re too small to have a mixed (Airbus and Boeing) fleet, we realized it would be too costly.”

The Italian Airbus vs. Boeing Battle

Air Italy’s choice to ditch the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner in favor of the ubiquitous and successful Airbus A330-200 is certainly a loss for the American manufacturer in a country where Airbus is already a big winner.

At the time of launching, Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, said that the Italian carrier was to be fitted with an all-Boeing fleet of 30 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, and 20 737 MAX 8 aircraft—a total of 50 American-made jets, all of which would be leased at regular market prices.

“We want to become the number-one airline brand in Italy,” said Al Baker. “And we have the resources to accomplish this goal.”

Air Italy would easily surpass Alitalia as the country’s biggest Boeing operator by a long shot—38 planes. The ill-fated Italian flag carrier currently operates a fleet of 97 planes, of which only 11 are Boeing 777-200(ER)s and one 777-300(ER). The rest are all Airbus jets.

And even though Air Italy’s plans to take delivery of more Boeing 737 MAX 8s seemed strong, the airline opted not to take up two factory-fresh planes that were painted in the carrier’s full colors in Seattle. Paine Airport’s Matt Cawby captured the two planes re-painted in full white.

Rossen Dimitrov told the Aviation Analyst that, potentially, the airline was re-evaluating its network and fleet “in light of the 737 MAX groundings,” also hinting that Air Italy’s operation “could have been more streamlined if we were an all-Airbus customer, and it’s something we are exploring as an option.”

And this option might be linked to Qatar Airways recently announcing that it will phase out its narrowbody fleet of two A319s, 32 A320s, and six A321s, with brand-new 50 A321neos the carrier has on order.

It is very likely that these Airbus narrowbody planes might end up flying for the Italian carrier, although no confirmations have been given by the Italian airline’s management.

With Air Italy’s change of mind, Airbus is destined to keep its market share as the number-one in Italy.

Controversy no more

Earlier this year, the Italian airline faced harsh criticism in the U.S. from the likes of Delta, American, and United, regarding the fact that Qatar Airways is an important stakeholder in the carrier.

Accusations of double-dipping included an investigation by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, looking into whether or not Qatar was in breach of the open skies agreement, where it had complied with American regulators not to launch any further new flights to the U.S. market and had used Air Italy as a mule to do just that.

“Qatar Airways’ investment in Air Italy was a matter of public knowledge (… ) The understandings do not mention or prohibit cross-border investments of any type,” stated the airline in an urgent press release on April 11.

“Furthermore, Qatar Airways does not codeshare on any of Air Italy’s flights to the United States and has no plans to do so.

Air Italy is owned by Alisarda SpA (former owner of Meridiana), and Qatar Airways, in a 51-49% balance, respectively.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group CEO, has repeatedly noted that he and his airline are only minority shareholders in the Italian carrier, and have no weighing in the decision-making process of Air Italy’s strategies.

“Qatar Airways is not operating any Fifth Freedom scheduled air services to the U.S.,” affirms the Doha-based carrier, which currently offers customer nonstop flights to Atlanta, Houston, Miami, New York, Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago-O’Hare, and Philadelphia.

Conversely, Air Italy currently flies nonstop from its hub in Milan-Malpensa to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.