Rolls Royce Delays Timeline on Solving Their Boeing 787 Engine Issues
As if Boeing is not experiencing enough problems with the grounding of the 737MAX, recent issues have arisen with the Rolls Royce 1000 TEN engines that power some Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. While the question relates only to the engine design, not the airplane itself, several of the highly touted Boeing 787s have been grounded until Rolls Royce can fix premature wear and tear issues the engine blades and compressors.
Singapore Air was the first to detect the problem. Blades on their brand-new Boeing 787 engines were showing severe wear and cracking after only a single year of service. As a result, they and other airlines have grounded their 787s until these engines can be replaced appropriately or repaired.
Dreamliners powered by General Electric’s GEnx engines, however, are not affected by the Rolls Royce problem. Recent purchases of the Boeing 787 have been equipped with the GE engines.
Identifying the Problem
The Rolls Royce engine problems stem from chemical corrosion known as sulfidation that affects the nickel alloy used for the IPT (intermediate pressure section) blades. As a result, the turbine blades break down faster than expected.
A Rolls Royce engineer, quoted in the U.K. publication, The Engineer, stated that the cracking problems in the IPT of the turbine had been a problem since first detected in 2016. The rapid chemical deterioration was not apparent during testing. The issue came to light after the engines were exposed to high levels of sulfur-containing pollutants sucked in by the engine’s compression systems.
The article also states that conditions of this type do not affect other Rolls Royce engines and are specific to the Trent 1000.
Finding the Solution
According to a SimpleFlying report on September 20, 2019, Rolls Royce had announced that 35 787s had been grounded waiting for resolution of the problem. The company's stated objective was to bring the number of grounded planes down to single digits as of the end of 2019.
In the meantime, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Norwegian Air opted to lease Airbus A340s and A380s to manage the excess capacity during the grounding.
The article further mentions that Rolls Royce announced in August that the repair of the grounded airplanes with Trent 1000 engines would take longer than expected.
The latest announcement has changed the deadline for getting all planes back into service to the 2nd Quarter of 2020.
It is essential for travelers to understand that this problem is not with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which has performed as expected. The 787 groundings relate specifically to the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine option.
Many airlines, like New Zealand Air, are adding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to their fleet specifying that the new orders be equipped with the GE engine option.