A Boeing Co. 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft, operated by Singapore Airlines Ltd. (Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg)

Dreamliners Faces Inspections on Rolls Engine Flaws

(Bloomberg) -- Faulty Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engine blades are deteriorating faster than expected, prompting additional groundings of Boeing Co.’s 787 jetliners for early repairs.

The discovery affects about 120 Trent 1000 turbines, or about 8 percent of the global fleet, and has frustrated efforts to reduce the number of idled planes after a series of engine issues, a person familiar with the situation said. Fewer than 40 Dreamliners are currently grounded for immediate attention.

Dreamliners Faces Inspections on Rolls Engine Flaws

Air-safety regulators will publish a formal requirement for repairs in coming weeks, said the person, who asked not to be named as no directive has been released. Rolls-Royce uncovered the part’s shorter life-span in December, when Air New Zealand Dreamliners suffered in-flight turbine damage on successive days.

The flaws add to Rolls-Royce’s struggle with design faults to the engines, which have already prompted the company to record 1.3 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) in charges. The engine maker also faces a blow to its image because the faults involve the high-profile 787, Boeing’s most advanced model, leaving airlines rushing to find replacement aircraft for long-haul routes.

Customer Reactions

Air New Zealand Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon told shareholders on Sept. 26 that the engine problem, while not a safety issue, is the “biggest operational challenge” that has had a huge impact on his network and customers. Air New Zealand said it will cost the airline as much as NZ$40 million ($26 million) in the current financial year.

With as many as five of its 13 Dreamliners grounded at any given time, the carrier has had to lease three aircraft to make up for the shortage, he said in a letter to customers earlier.

A spokeswoman for Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc., which has 65 Dreamliners powered by the Trent 1000 engines, said the carrier hasn’t heard from the turbine maker about the latest development yet. The airline is in the process of replacing the affected blades and will wrap up talks with Rolls-Royce over compensation by March, she said Friday. The carrier has canceled more than a thousand flights between July and October.

Design glitches have plagued the Trent program for two years and eaten into Rolls-Royce’s share on the jet against rival General Electric Co. The intermediate pressure turbine blades -- which had already been flagged for replacement -- aren’t lasting long enough to meet the previously set maintenance schedule.

“We continue to proactively manage a number of known durability issues within our Trent 1000 fleet and have made good progress in redesigning and replacing affected parts,” London-based Rolls-Royce said by email. The issue concerns a minority of 787 engines that haven’t already had the relevant blades replaced and may cause “additional short-term disruption,” it said.

Mitigating Disruption

The European Aviation Safety Agency didn’t return calls for comment, while the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it’s working with European regulators and Rolls-Royce on the issue.

“Safety remains our top priority as we continue to work through the replacement of intermediate pressure turbine blades on Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Package C engines,” Boeing said in a statement. “Rolls-Royce already has replaced the blades on a majority of engines. Our team is fully engaged with Rolls-Royce, and deployed worldwide with customers to mitigate service disruption.”

Dreamliners Faces Inspections on Rolls Engine Flaws

Rolls-Royce rose 1.9 percent as of 8:23 a.m. Friday, after losing 2.5 percent on Thursday following the Bloomberg report. Boeing climbed less than 1 percent to $367.39 at Thursday’s close in New York.

Engine makers like Rolls-Royce typically foot the bill -- including for the leasing of replacement aircraft -- when design or production issues delay deliveries or force airlines to idle jets that are already in service. Rolls-Royce has been mitigating some of those costs by offering customers discounts on future maintenance contracts or engine purchases.

Dreamliners affected by the latest findings already faced shop visits for remedial work, so the accelerated timeline for blade replacements won’t necessarily increase the charges Rolls-Royce has already earmarked. Still, Rolls could face a fresh bill to compensate airlines for added flight disruption.

The U.K. manufacturer has gone on a fence-mending campaign as customers for the engine -- including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA -- have been forced to hire jets this summer as turbines go in for repairs.

Quick notes

  • The fault affects so-called Package C engines -- a specific batch of 383 in-service turbines -- that have the original intermediate turbine blade design
  • Rolls-Royce has been replacing those blades since January 2017 and is about two-thirds through the population
  • The EASA directive is likely to require about 30 to 40 engines to be pulled off-wing sooner than expected, with the remainder able to stick to the original maintenance schedule, according to the person
  • In some cases the shorter lifespan requires maintenance several weeks ahead of plan
  • Some 724 Dreamliners operate globally, about 35 percent of which are powered by Rolls. Each plane has two engines

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