Bloomberg News

Boeing Short-Circuiting 787 Shows Skills Gap, Norwegian Air Says

January 16, 2014

Boeing Co. (BA:US) engineers lacked the expertise needed to diagnose a fault on a 787 Dreamliner, causing them to short-circuit the marquee plane and leave its passengers stranded, operator Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) ASA said.

The twin-engine jet, Boeing’s newest model, suffered what proved to be an erroneous fault warning in New York on Dec. 29, then was grounded for three days after the maintenance blunder, Norwegian Air Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said.

“Some of the teams they have put in place don’t have the necessary experience,” Kjos, 67, said yesterday in an interview in London. He said the incident and two other holiday-season failures traced to an antenna glitch in Florida and a bird strike in Bangkok had come “at the worst time for passengers.”

Kjos’s plans to establish Norwegian Air as a pioneer in long-haul discount travel revolve around Dreamliner operating costs that Boeing says will be at least 15 percent lower than for older aircraft. The CEO said the airline’s business model is being stretched with deliveries of only three 787s out of the 10 it has committed to purchase or lease.

“When we come up to summer we’ll have a much better flexibility to swap aircraft that we can’t do today, or at least not every day,” he said. Fornebu-based Norwegian was forced to lease another plane to bring passengers home from New York.

Boeing said it was responding to the situation.

“We are working with our customer to ensure that our support meets their expectations, and implementing improvements when it does not,” Doug Alder, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said by e-mail.

Brake Sensor

The 787 incident in Bangkok on Jan. 1 that resulted from a bird strike caused the plane to be grounded for a day, while the Dec. 21 antenna glitch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the first in about 10 years involving a part also used on the 737, and caused a delay while a replacement was brought from Seattle, Kjos said.

The New York incident was triggered by a software issue falsely suggesting that the brakes were being applied to one of the plane’s wheels, according to the CEO.

“The sensor was wrong and it should have been fixed in five minutes,” he said. “Some of the people were very good and some could have had more experience on the 787s.”

Boeing is responding by strengthening engineering support at airports where Norwegian’s 787s fly, Kjos said.

Smooth Operations

The CEO said the Dreamliners enjoyed a period of smooth operations and achieved 92 percent on-time performance between Scandinavia and New York during November after problems earlier in the year. “They were working all the time,” he said.

The high utilization that Norwegian Air needs from its 787s to deliver a global timetable should be eased once further planes arrive by the middle of this year.

“When we have seven aircraft we will always have flexibility to swap,” Kjos said.

The next wave of deliveries to Norwegian will also feature enhancements including updated software that should reduce the likelihood of further disruptions, Kjos said.

Kjos said he’s meanwhile working to repair customer relations strained by December’s miscues, which were given days of Scandinavian media coverage charting the woes of stranded passengers and the carrier’s purportedly subpar response.

“Our system showed serious weaknesses in informing the passengers,” Kjos said. “The press is quite right to write about it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at klundgren2@bloomberg.net; Robert Wall in London at rwall6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net


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