The problem is so bad – corrosion mainly on fan blades – that Rolls Royce almost admit it’s pretty much gotten away from them. They can barely keep up with demand for spares and for some airlines it’s become a serious enough problem drastic measures have had to be taken.
Virgin Atlantic has been badly hit – it’s 787-9’s are in rolling repair through most of 2018, with two to three grounded at any one time. The leased A332’s formerly Air Berlin’s and a repurchased A340-600 are an effort to keep services running while repairs go on.
Thai has also suffered, grounding many of its 787 aircraft. British Airways is changing aircraft types on Dreamliner routes in an effort to avoid a wholesale grounding.
Air New Zealand has had to call in Hi-Fly to operate services for it while its own aircraft sit idle.
ANA has also suffered during 2017, with many aircraft waiting for repairs.
Meanwhile Rolls Royce sweat as they struggle to keep up with new engine demand for new builds and make replacements for troubled customers.
The problem is so widespread that a new engine is being developed to avoid the problems – the Trent-1000-TEN – to my mind that sounds as though a fundamental flaw exists in the current version only resolvable by a major redesign. That doesn’t bode well.
In the meantime, Rolls Royce claim to be doing all they can, the airlines are trying to make no fuss in public – who wants to spook customers just as at the busiest peak season Christmas period hits?
Rolls Royce admit that up to 25% of engines built have an immediate issue. That suggests all of them have a long term one.
It’s not unusual to have technical issues that need resolution, but one this major and costly is rare.
For airlines like Virgin Atlantic who operate a relatively small long haul fleet – half of their aircraft are 787-9’s – this is a costly and profit sapping issue – Rolls Royce I suspect, will be expected to share some of the burden.
Majority shareholder Delta has stepped in with taking on several New York and Atlanta services while Virgin Atlantic does what it can to mitigate a problem it could well do without.