ANA Says Boeing 787 Turbine Blade Fix May Take 3 Years

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What looked on Monday to be an issue that could be resolved relatively soon may, in fact, take up to three years to fix. That’s according to Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA), which said Tuesday it may take that long to replace faulty turbine blades in the Rolls-Royce engines that power the airline’s fleet of 50 Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) 787 Dreamliners.

The airline cancelled 18 flights on its 787s last week, and although it said earlier that further cancellations were unlikely, Reuters reported Tuesday morning that ANA has now said that it may cancel some future flights. According to the report, vibrations caused by cracked turbine blades in the rear portions of the plane’s Trent 1000 engines have forced three domestic Japanese flights to return to the airport.

ANA was the launch customer for the 787, and all its Dreamliners, plus eight others already on order, use the Rolls-Royce engine. Of the total of 445 Dreamliners currently in service, about 40% use the Trent 1000 engine, according to Reuters.

Boeing customers can choose between the Trent 1000 and the GEnx engine from General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE). As we noted on Monday, planes equipped with the GEnx engine were flagged for an immediate repair earlier this year.

Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East told Reuters:

It is an issue but it’s a manageable issue. With the more intensive use, the natural wear and tear on the engines happens sooner.

ANA was the 787’s launch customer and received its first 787 in September of 2011. Several problems showed up almost as soon as Dreamliner deliveries began. A problem with the plane’s landing gear came to light shortly after ANA received the first planes, and a delamination of the Dreamliner’s carbon-fiber fuselage was discovered on an ANA plane early in 2012.

In July of 2012, five of ANA’s 11 Dreamliners were grounded due to a problem with the Rolls-Royce engines, and in early 2013, generator problems with the planes led to a grounding of the global 787 fleet. Last February an ANA flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo was forced to return to the airport just 40 minutes after takeoff due to a high-temperature warning light from one of the plane’s two engines.

The latest issue with the Trent 1000 engine already has resulted in about $800,000 of lost income to ANA, according to Reuters. Boeing has been silent on the issue so far, leading us to conclude that Rolls-Royce stands to bear most, if not all, of any costs related to replacing the turbine blades.