Rolls-Royce blade troubles deepen with latest 787 grounding

Fan blades of a Rolls Royce Holdings Plc Trent 1000 engine are seen on a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner test aircraft at the Paris Air Show in Paris, France. (Bloomberg pic) 

LONDON: Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc said it will accelerate a program to install redesigned blades on some of its Trent 1000 engines, after early wear forced Singapore Airlines Ltd to ground two 787 aircraft using the turbines.

The latest setback for the Trent 1000 TEN, used on Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jets, came after the UK engine maker sampled a small number of the global fleet that had “flown in more arduous conditions,” Rolls said Tuesday in a statement.

The company said it will work closely with customers that are affected as it tests “an enhanced version of this blade.”

A Rolls spokesman didn’t say how many planes were affected, identify other customers or give details of the blades’ shortened life.

The company said in February that about 35 Dreamliners remained grounded and that it aimed to reduce that number to about 10 by the end of the year.

Design glitches have plagued the Trent program since 2016, leading to about US$1.7 billion in charges, while eating into Rolls-Royce’s share of turbines for 787 jets against rival engine maker General Electric Co.

Last year, the company said the intermediate pressure turbine blades – which had already been flagged for replacement – weren’t lasting long enough to meet the previously set maintenance schedule.

Regulators have at times limited how far the planes can fly from an airport, which has forced airlines to re-route some long-distance flights.

Rolls’s efforts to redesign the blade have taken longer than expected, which has affected the latest TEN variant.

The same blade is used on the Trent 7000, which powers the Airbus SE A330neo.

Shares of Rolls-Royce fell as much as 2.7%, and were down 1.8% to 900.6 pence at 10.37am in London. Singapore Air rose 0.4% to S$9.76 in the city-state.

Singapore Air said it found “premature blade deterioration” during routine inspections of some plane engines, leading the carrier to ground two 787-10 aircraft.

The carrier, in consultation with Rolls, identified other Trent 1000 TEN engines in its 787 fleet to undergo precautionary inspections, Singapore Airlines said in a separate statement.

All these inspections have been concluded, and a remaining check will be completed on a 787-9 aircraft of its Scoot budget carrier by Wednesday.

For Boeing, idling more of its Dreamliners – the Chicago-based manufacturer’s most advanced twin-aisle aircraft – comes at an inopportune time.

The US planemaker is grappling with a global grounding of its best-selling 737 Max narrow-body after two crashes raised safety concerns with regulators.

Singapore Air said it’s working closely with Rolls-Royce and authorities for any additional actions and precautionary measures that may be required.

Customers of Dreamliners include Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc, Air New Zealand Ltd, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.