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LOT Polish Airlines dream delayed by 787 grounding

Updated: January 17, 2013 12:47PM

The plane that was supposed to lead LOT Polish Airlines into a more successful future now sits grounded indefinitely at O’Hare, and the Polish state-controlled carrier is going back to its older fleet of Boeing 767s to bridge the gap.

“LOT will cooperate both with Boeing and FAA to develop a corrective action plan to allow our [Dreamliner] fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible,” the carrier said in a statement issued Thursday, the day after LOT had planned to launch its trans-Atlantic service with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Chicago was chosen as the inaugural North American gateway, with Toronto and New York City to follow next month. All of that is up in the air now that the 787s have been grounded while regulators probe recently surfaced safety concerns about the plane.

A LOT spokesman said Thursday that the airline is considering seeking compensation from Boeing for the grounding of its two Dreamliners.

The carrier will use its existing fleet of Boeing 767s for all currently scheduled long-haul flights, except for a Thursday flight to Beijing, which was canceled.

LOT has long been looking to retire its five 767s, which were built in the early ’90s. The plan was to replace them with state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient Dreamliners — something that was supposed to happen in 2008, when LOT was originally slated to get the 787.

The first of the delay-plauged Dreamliners wasn’t delivered to LOT until November. The second arrived in December, with three more scheduled to arrive in Warsaw by early March. The airline ordered a total of eight.

While it waited for its Dreamliners to roll off the assembly line, LOT had to refurbish its 767s to remain competitive, said LOT regional sales director Frank Joost.

“Passengers start thinking about switching to other airlines because there’s a difference whether you fly on an airplane that was put into service in the beginning of the ’90s or something that’s brand new,” Joost said in an interview shortly before the recent groundings.

Being the first European carrier to get the 787 was a source of pride for the relatively small Polish airline. “From a marketing perspective, it’s huge for us,” Joost said. “Also for the nation of Poland, it’s a huge boost from an image perspective.”

The Dreamliner was — and perhaps still is — a key part of LOT’s plan to capture more of the lucrative business-traveler market. LOT’s 767s, while similar in size to its 250-seat Dreamliners, have only two classes of service: 18 seats in business class, the rest in coach. The Dreamliner’s configuration has three classes: 18 in business, 21 in “premium economy” and the remainder in coach.

The Dreamliner is designed to be especially comfortable for passengers on long-haul flights, and LOT was banking on the aircraft to build its reputation as an international carrier not only to Poland, but across Eastern Europe.

“We are maturing into an airline that is much more than an ethnic carrier flying Polish people between USA and Poland,” Joost said. “The Dreamliner is one of the catalysts to help us get there.”

For now, LOT’s Dreamliners won’t be getting anyone anywhere.

Said a LOT spokesman Thursday: “No commercial flight will take place until meeting the FAA/[European regulator] EASA permission.”

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