JAPAN-AVIATION-COMPANY-EARNINGS-ANA...This picture taken on January 29, 2015 shows an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 787 Dreamliner taking off from Tokyo's Haneda airport. Japan's All Nippon Airways said on January 30, 2015 that its April-December net profit soared 57.2 percent to 52.36 billion yen (443 million USD) from a year ago, as an expansion at a downtown Tokyo airport boosted the carrier's international business. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
An All Nippon Airways 787 Dreamliner long-range jet © AFP

Rolls-Royce will over the next three years replace turbine blades on the entire fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners powered by its Trent 1000 engine, after corrosion and cracking problems were discovered on some passenger jets operated by Japanese launch customer ANA.

Rolls-Royce has taken the decision after finding issues with the coating on blades located in the intermediate pressure area inside the Trent 1000 engine six months ago.

However, the replacement of turbine blades in the 169 Dreamliners powered by the Rolls-Royce engine and operated by ANA, Norwegian Air Shuttle, British Airways and other airlines will be done in the course of normal maintenance, and is not expected to lead to significant new financial charges.

ANA disclosed last week that it had decided this month to cancel several Dreamliner flights because of problems with broken and corroding turbine blades.

Five aircraft are currently out of service in order to accelerate the replacement of the turbine blades.

ANA, the largest operator of the Dreamliner with 50 aircraft in its fleet, said on Tuesday that it would replace intermediate pressure turbine blades on all of its Trent 1000 engines made by Rolls-Royce. The process would take between two and three years.

Rolls-Royce said: “We have a service management plan with all operators that addresses this issue.

“It will take up to three years, as ANA has stated, but it will be less for smaller fleets and we are working to accelerate this with every customer.”

ANA has scaled back its initial estimates for dozens of Dreamliner flights to be cancelled. The Japanese airline said this week that it would not need to cancel any flights in the first two weeks of September.

This should be good news for Rolls-Royce, battling to recover after a string of profit warnings.

But it could be on the hook to compensate ANA for cancelled flights, which are estimated to have so far cost some $800,000.

It remains unclear how many flights will eventually be cancelled and therefore what Rolls-Royce’s potential liability could be, according to several people familiar with the situation.

At its first-half results for this year, the company reported a £64m cost to aftersales service contracts, a significant proportion of which was to cover the charges for replacing the defective turbine blades in the Trent 1000 engine.

Other operators of the Dreamliner are not grounding aircraft as ANA has done, according to other people with knowledge of the airlines’ positions.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the US regulator, said last week that it did not currently consider the issue a “safety concern”.

Boeing, which is still paying for lengthy delays and cost-overruns in the design and manufacture of the technologically-advanced Dreamliner, is understood to be monitoring developments.

Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine
Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine

One person close to Boeing said that neither European nor Japanese regulators had issued restrictions on the use of the aircraft after discovery of the turbine blade issue, which was reassuring.

The intermediate pressure turbine blades are made at Rolls-Royce’s UK facilities in Derby.

Broken blades have been discovered on three of ANA’s Dreamliners, some of which had damaged other parts of the Trent 1000 engine.

The first problems emerged in February and the most recent on August 20. Rolls-Royce learned of the issues in March.

It appears that turbine blades used on engines powering ANA’s Dreamliners flying on domestic routes are degrading more quickly than expected because of a design fault. While the replacement schedule had been modified for aircraft on long-haul routes this had not been done for the domestic fleet.

Rolls-Royce has developed a new turbine blade to resolve the issue which will become the standard from January next year, the company said.

In the meantime, Dreamliners coming in for maintenance will receive new versions of the existing blade, it added.

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