Boeing Skills Gap on 787 Exacerbating Faults, Norwegian CEO Says

Jan 17, 2014 4:26 am ET

Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. engineers lacked the expertise required 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 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, but was grounded for three days after the maintenance blunder, Norwegian Air Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said today.

“Some of the teams they have put in place don’t have the necessary experience,” Kjos said in the interview in London, adding that the incident and two other holiday-season failures traced to an antennae 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 787 operating costs said by Boeing to be more than 15 percent lower than for older aircraft. The CEO acknowledged that his company’s business model is at full stretch with only three Dreamliners delivered 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.

Chicago-based Boeing said in an e-mail today that 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,” said Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman.

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 Ft. Lauderdale was Boeing’s first in 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 triggeted by a software issue that falsely suggested that 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 to the situation by strengthening its engineering support at airports where Norwegian’s 787s fly, Kjos said.

Enhancements

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 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.”

--With assistance from Julie Johnsson in Chicago. Editors: Christopher Jasper, Benedikt Kammel