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Rolls-Royce engine corrosion spurs ANA to check Dreamliners

Friday, August 26, 2016 - 07:09
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ANA Holdings Inc, the world's biggest operator of Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner jet, is cancelling flights as it checks the Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines on its fleet for corrosion.

[TOKYO] ANA Holdings Inc, the world's biggest operator of Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner jet, is cancelling flights as it checks the Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines on its fleet for corrosion.

The Japanese airline, with a fleet of 50 Dreamliners, cancelled nine flights with the aircraft Friday and may have to scrap more than 300 through the end of September, Takeo Kikuchi, a deputy senior vice president of engineering and maintenance, told reporters Thursday in Tokyo. ANA is replacing medium pressure turbine blades on the planes, Mr Kikuchi said.

The 787-related flight cancellations are the largest for ANA since 2013, when Boeing and regulators grounded the global Dreamliner fleet while fixing an issue with the plane's lithium-ion battery.

About 38 per cent of the 787s in service are powered by Rolls-Royce's Trent 1000 turbines while the rest are outfitted with General Electric Co engines.

The latest issue came to the fore as ANA investigated why a 787 engine overheated during a February flight.

That jet returned to Kuala Lumpur airport after receiving a warning that the temperature of the exhaust gas from its right engine had spiked. ANA encountered the issue of corrosion in turbine blades three times since February, Mr Kikuchi said.

Rolls-Royce and Boeing said they're working with the airline to minimise the impact on flights.

"In terms of any requirement to take additional action, this issue is limited to a small proportion of the ANA fleet," a Rolls-Royce spokesman said in response to questions about whether other airlines' fleets may be affected.

"We are aware of the situation and are working closely with ANA to minimise the effect of aircraft service disruption."

The company said it maintains "a conservative provisioning policy" and "will update the market if we believe any further action is required" regarding potential spending on a fix to the engines, the spokesman said.

The European Aviation Safety Agency is "considering" releasing a service bulletin recommending action from carriers in Europe, a spokeswoman said by e-mail, adding that "there are discussions going on."

ANA has been in talks with Rolls-Royce on issues with the engines since March, Mr Kikuchi said Thursday. The airline, which was the initial customer for the 787 in 2011, operates almost a third of Dreamliners globally that fly with Trent 1000 engines, according to a Morgan Stanley research report.

This isn't the first time corrosion has been found in the Rolls-Royce power plants. The issue cropped up in the Trent 1000 gearboxes in 2012 and was quickly resolved, Jaime Rowbotham, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in a note to clients Thursday.

Rolls-Royce announced at the Farnborough Air Show last month that European safety regulators had certified an updated version of the Trent 1000 that borrows technology developed for a newer engine powering Airbus Group SE's A350 jetliners.

"We expect the new derivative will have been designed to avoid the issues of its predecessor," Mr Rowbotham wrote.

Boeing dipped 0.3 per cent to US$132.89 at 11:46 am in New York. Rolls-Royce fell 1.8 per cent to 774 pence at the close in London. ANA gained 1.6 per cent to close at 279.5 yen in Tokyo.

ANA has had three issues with the engines that have affected flights, Kikuchi said, adding that it expects to lose 55 million yen (S$741,600) from tomorrow's cancellations. The company doesn't know the total financial impact at this time, he said.

Despite its early, headline-grabbing struggles, the 787 has evolved into one of the most dependable planes in service, with a dispatch reliability of more than 99 per cent, according to Boeing.

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