By Dominic Gates The Seattle Times
Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner traveled to Norway this week and promised better support for Norwegian Air’s fleet of 787 Dreamliners following a series of reliability issues that repeatedly grounded flights this month.
Conner met Wednesday with Norwegian Air Chief Executive Bjorn Kjos in Oslo in an effort to smooth relations with the airline, which has been vocal about its dissatisfaction.
On the same day, LOT, the flag carrier of Poland, said it had to temporarily ground two Dreamliners after inspections revealed fuel filters missing from the Rolls-Royce engines on the aircraft.
After the meeting in Oslo, Reuters reported that Norwegian’s Kjos called it “a positive discussion.”
“They agreed to put up spare part stocks at destinations we fly to,” Kjos told Reuters. “And they’ll send a dedicated team of experts to Norwegian so if there’s a problem popping up, they can immediately solve it.”
The airline is concerned about the overall reliability of the 787, Norwegian Air fleet director Tore Jenssen said in advance of the meeting with Boeing.
“If you look at the other 787 customers, most of them have technical problems too,” Jenssen said. “It’s a performance reliability problem and a quality issue from Boeing.”
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder, in a statement, declined to give details of the Oslo meeting or the problems Norwegian experienced with the 787, saying customer discussions are private.
“We can say that how the 787 performs in service for our customers is paramount. … Any impact to our customers’ operations is not satisfactory,” Alder said.
Norwegian’s newly established long-haul 787 flights to New York and Bangkok were disrupted throughout September by three apparently unrelated component failures, first involving the jet’s electrical power, then hydraulics, and most recently the cockpit oxygen supply, according to a person with knowledge of the incidents.
Last weekend, both 787s were grounded because a leaky regulator on an oxygen bottle depleted the emergency oxygen supply available to the pilots in both airplanes.
When the planes arrived in Oslo, replacement oxygen bottles were not immediately available, and flights had to be canceled.
At the beginning of the month, one Norwegian Air 787 was grounded for five days after a power supply issue in the electric brake system showed up during routine maintenance.
After that was fixed, the carrier’s second 787 developed an unrelated power supply problem, this time connected to the jet’s central computing system, which grounded that jet for another day.
Then in mid-September, a 787 flight from Oslo to New York was delayed until the next day after a hydraulic pump failed. Passengers waited hours at the terminal for the pump to be fixed; then a final check discovered an unrelated leak in a hydraulic hose to the landing gear. The flight didn’t take off until next day.
Norwegian flies two 787s on a strenuous schedule with tight turnaround times, often just two hours.
One plane flies on alternate days between Oslo and Bangkok, then Oslo and New York, while the other does the same from Stockholm.
Norwegian has no other long-haul jets in its fleet that it can use as quick replacements if a 787 is out of service.
Separately, LOT, an airline that has been struggling to survive even with hefty emergency subsidies from the Polish government, detailed how it had to ground its fleet of five Dreamliners this month.
LOT’s U.K.-based airplane maintenance subcontractor, Monarch Aircraft Engineering, found a fuel filter missing in each of the two Rolls-Royce engines on one 787.
LOT spokeswoman Barbara Pijanowska-Kuras said the issue posed “no threat to flight safety” because each engine has two filters.
Nevertheless, she said LOT immediately inspected the other jets in its fleet of five Dreamliners. They found another missing fuel filter in one engine of a different 787.
The missing filters have been replaced and all its 787s are back in service, LOT said.
Pijanowska-Kuras said the aircraft had been operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions since delivery from Boeing.
The airline never opened the engine, she said, leaving such service work to Monarch, which is a maintenance subcontractor certified by Boeing.
Boeing spokesman Alder said no other 787s in the worldwide fleet have reported this problem.
“Boeing is conducting a thorough review of the cause of this and will implement the appropriate changes to ensure it does not happen again,” Alder said.
Alder said the 787 fleet — currently at 85 airplanes delivered to 14 customers — is averaging about 200 flights per day and has flown more than 36,000 passenger flights since the model entered service.