Virgin Atlantic can't operate planes with unreliable engines, so it has little choice. But for passengers who have to fly a former Air Berlin Airbus A330, instead of a snazzy Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787, this is a major downgrade.
All 15 Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner jets operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. are affected by faults with Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines that power the wide-body planes, according to the carrier.
Grounding the Trent 1000 turbines for fixes has been “seriously disruptive,” forcing Virgin to find a number of workarounds, including calling on partner Delta Air Lines Inc. and leasing extra aircraft, Shai Weiss, the U.K. company’s chief financial officer, said in an interview in London. As many as three of the 258-seat 787-9s have been taken out of service at one time.
Durability issues with components used in the Dreamliner engine and the Trent 900 that powers Airbus SE’s A380 superjumbo cost Rolls-Royce 227 million pounds ($314 million) in charges last year and wiped 170 million pounds from cash flow, the London-based manufacturer said Wednesday.
The cash impact could double this year as maintenance activity peaks, and the re-design of problem parts won’t be fully incorporated in the 787 fleet until 2022, Rolls-Royce said. It estimated in August that as many as 500 Trent 1000s — which compete with General Electric Co.’s GEnx turbines on the 787 — would need early maintenance because of wear issues affecting the fan blades.
After initially relying on Atlanta-based Delta, which has a 49 percent stake in Virgin, to operate some flights on its behalf while engines received attention, the U.K. carrier is taking delivery of four 287-seat Airbus A330-200 planes to provide spare capacity, with two already in service.
The leased aircraft, which will be used on flights from Manchester, England, were previously operated by defunct German airline Air Berlin Plc and are being painted in Virgin’s livery while retaining their old layout, with the edition of a premium-economy cabin. The planes are on leases as long as four years and may be retained even after the Trent 1000 work is completed, providing a significant boost in capacity.
Virgin has also brought a retired Airbus A340-600 plane back into service to help improve “operational resilience” in peak travel period travel periods.
Asked whether Virgin Atlantic — one of the half-dozen biggest global customers for the 787-9 version of the twin-engine Dreamliner — has been paid compensation for the upheaval, Weiss said the carrier is holding “commercial discussions in private.”
A spokesperson for Rolls-Royce said that the company is working closely with Virgin Atlantic and all customers affected by the Trent 1000 issue to minimize disruption.
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Photo credit: Because of a problem with the Rolls Royce engines on its Boeing 787s, Virgin Atlantic has had to lease four Airbus A330s. Pictured is one of the carrier's 787s. Bloomberg