Virgin Atlantic continues to struggle with reliability issues on Boeing 787 aircraft but expects to have its major troubles with Rolls-Royce engines resolved by year-end, the airline’s CEO said in an interview in London.
Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss was more diplomatic in comments about Rolls-Royce than Emirates President Tim Clark, who earlier in the week sharply criticized it and one of its competitors for building flawed engines that do not perform as promised. Most of Rolls-Royce’s biggest problems have come on engines used by some 787 operators, including Norwegian Air, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.
“There’s been marked improvement over the past year and I’m firmly in the view that Rolls-Royce will sort it out in the next four months,” Weiss told Skift at the World Aviation Festival in London this week.
The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine must be cared for much more thoroughly than normal, requiring airlines to remove it from service often for inspections and repairs. Some carriers have wet-leased aircraft as replacements, though Virgin took a different approach, adding several used Airbus A330s and leaning more on Delta Air Lines, which owns 49 percent of the company.
Like Clark earlier in the week, Weiss said there’s no safety issue. But managing the engine problems is a major undertaking, especially for a small airline like Virgin Atlantic, which has just 47 jets.
“It’s more treatment, changing some of the parts, the components, the blades inside and some of the fans and that is done by Rolls-Royce,” Weiss said. “The life that you expect to have in an engine before it needs to be inspected and treated is much shorter.”
Virgin Atlantic received its first 787 in late 2014 and now flies 17 of them, according to Boeing data.
While Virgin Atlantic can plan ahead for inspections and bigger repair work, its 787s remain less reliable on a day-to-day basis than the airline would like, Weiss said.
“It’s been predictable, yet unpredictable,” he said. “These are statistical models. They don’t always work to the absolute. They have variability in them.”
Weiss said the 787s have the highest customers satisfaction scores of any cabin in Virgin Atlantic’s fleet. Still, he said, he finds the aircraft’s lack of reliability a major challenge.
“I’m happy when they fly,” he said. “We’re working diligently with our partners at Rolls-Royce and Boeing. I know they will sort it out but we are not happy with planes that are not flying.”
No Wider Problem
In a discussion Wednesday with reporters in London, Emirates’ Clark sharply criticized not only Rolls-Royce, but also Boeing, Airbus and engine-maker General Electric, for coming to market with subpar products. He also blamed airlines, who, because they wanted to grow, have been willing to accept shoddy airframes and engines.
In his discussion, Clark said Emirates would no longer accept aircraft, including the Boeing 787, if the airline did not believe the manufacturer and engine maker would deliver what they promised. In many cases, he said, engine manufacturers have promised impressive efficiency, and then fall short.
“I think the industry does need to step back and say, ‘We want technology, we want the advancement for all the reasons we know and love, but don’t overdo so you’ve gone too far, too quickly,”‘ Clark said. “Give us the engines and airframe that work so at least we can do our job.”
To Virgin Atlantic’s Weiss, it’s not so simple. He acknowledged Clark may have had his reasons for criticizing the manufacturers but said at Virgin Atlantic, the 787 matter is considered an isolated incident. “Look, he’s a big buyer of planes,” Weiss said. “He must have something he wants to get across.”
In June, Virgin Atlantic ordered 14 Airbus A330-900neos, an airplane fitted only with Rolls-Royce engines. It’s an airplane Clark said he will not take until he is persuaded Rolls-Royce had fixed its internal problems. However, Weiss said he has no similar concerns, noting the A330 uses Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine.
“It’s different engines, and we believe they are sorting with the issues with this current engine,” Weiss said.