There’s nothing dreamy about these engine problems…
Just saying the word “Dreamliner” can alleviate stressful thoughts associated with modern day flying; but unfortunately the calming mantra does not extend to airlines operating the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The plane, or rather its Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines, are proving to be one of the greatest airline setbacks in modern aviation history, as engines continue to falter and new regulatory pressures mount. One in five Rolls Royce Trent 1000 Dreamliner engines currently need replacement, service, inspection or repair and with two engines on each plane – troubles don’t seem to be fading away any time soon…
Engine issues aside, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a technological marvel and an otherwise phenomenal aircraft. Turbine blade corrosion on Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines, the engine of choice for many Boeing 787 Dreamliner customers has forced enumerable mid flight engine shutdowns and a myriad of issues for airlines, now forced to ground planes. And as reported by Reuters, things are only getting worse. New revelations this week from Rolls Royce point to additional, newly discovered compressor problems on the Trent 1000 C Series engine which now require further check ups, inspections and of course – expensive fixes. There’s also serious new talk of regulatory involvement from the FAA and European authorities this week, amid safety concerns.
As initial engine problems turned serial in 2016 for launch customer ANA, Rolls Royce initiated a refurb program to fix the considerable Trent 1000 engine issues, but over the course of the last two years, problems, such as the new compressor faults, have made “quick” fixes far from the norm. Long story short: Rolls Royce is hemorrhaging money and with expensive planes sitting on the ground – airlines are too. Rolls Royce is expected to spend 380 million dollars in 2018 alone dealing with the issue. It’s not hard to fathom how much an unused $100 million dollar aircraft costs an airline.
The larger the fleet, the more airlines can do to deflect from Dreamliner issues. While larger airlines such as British Airways and ANA have unquestionably been affected, it’s the smaller operators of the Boeing Dreamliner which have faced the utmost inconvenience. Norwegian, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Scoot, which operate very tight schedules on limited fleets banked heavily on the success of the 787 Dreamliner, and are now being forced to lease, borrow, swap and acquire outside aircraft any way possible – just to maintain schedules. Airline customers have come to expect the newest and best with this new generation of aircraft available and attempting to win customers with semi retired, old planes is far from ideal for cutting edge airlines.
Rolls Royce and its Trent 1000 airline customers may soon face outside regulatory pressure in addition to the ceaseless engine problems and their knock on effects. Many aviation regulatory bodies are considering plans to further limit the amount of time a plane can fly on one Trent 1000 engine. There’s also talk of limiting this engine from ever being more than 140 minutes away from a landing strip, less than half the present allowance. In addition, full inspections would be doubled, which would take planes out of service with increased regularity. As “scary” as it may sound, shutting an engine down in flight is a fairly routine issue, but reducing the time a plane is allowed to continue flight could potentially ground many Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes utilizing these engines; especially those embarking on European, South American or Pacific oceanic flights.
The ETOPS Problem
ETOPS, or Extended Range Twin Engine Operational Performance Standards, is the certification required to fly a commercial plane across the Atlantic Ocean, and if the U.S. FAA issues newly expected guidance for these engines reducing the time they may fly after an engine is shut down, or the minimum distance from an airfield, it could eliminate transatlantic or transpacific flight all together for these vexation engines – at least for now. This is fast becoming a headache that seems only to grow, for all involved.