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Originally published September 25, 2013 at 2:09 PM | Page modified September 27, 2013 at 10:11 AM

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Corrected version

787 problems stir complaints from Norwegian, Polish airlines

Boeing’s Ray Conner traveled to Oslo to meet with executives of Norwegian Air, which has complained about repeated technical problems with its 787s. Meanwhile the Polish airline LOT found missing fuel filters in some 787 engines.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner traveled to Norway and promised Wednesday better support for Norwegian Air’s fleet of 787 Dreamliners after a series of reliability issues that repeatedly grounded flights this month.

Conner met with Norwegian Air Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos in Oslo in an effort to smooth relations with the airline, which has been vocal about its dissatisfaction.

On the same day, LOT, the flag carrier of Poland, said it had to temporarily ground two Dreamliners after inspections revealed fuel filters missing from the Rolls-Royce engines on the aircraft.

London-based airline consultant John Strickland said Norwegian’s problems are likely exacerbated by the punishing flight schedule on which it operates its two 787s.

And he said that on the 787, the normal teething pains expected in any new airplane program are “compounded because there’s so much new technology, so many new systems in this aircraft.”

After the meeting in Oslo, Reuters reported Norwegian’s Kjos called it “a positive discussion.”

“They agreed to put up spare-part stocks at destinations we fly to,” Kjos told Reuters. “And they’ll send a dedicated team of experts to Norwegian so if there’s a problem popping up, they can immediately solve it.”

The airline is concerned about the overall reliability of the 787, Norwegian Air fleet director Tore Jenssen said in advance of the meeting with Boeing.

“If you look at the other 787 customers, most of them have technical problems too,” Jenssen said. “It’s a performance-reliability problem and a quality issue from Boeing.”

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder, in a statement, declined to give details of the meeting or the problems Norwegian experienced with the 787, saying customer discussions are private.

“We can say that how the 787 performs in service for our customers is paramount. ... Any impact to our customers’ operations is not satisfactory,” Alder added.

Norwegian’s newly established long-haul 787 flights to New York and Bangkok, Thailand, were disrupted throughout September by three apparently unrelated component failures, according to a person with knowledge of the incidents.

Last weekend, both 787s were grounded because a leaky regulator on an oxygen bottle depleted the emergency oxygen supply available to the pilots in both airplanes. When the planes arrived in Oslo, replacement oxygen bottles were not immediately available and flights had to be canceled.

At the beginning of the month, one Norwegian Air 787 was grounded for five days after a power-supply issue in the electric brake system showed up during routine maintenance.

After that was fixed, the carrier’s second 787 developed an unrelated power-supply problem, this time connected to the jet’s central computing system, which grounded that jet for another day.

Then in mid-September, a 787 flight from Oslo to JFK airport was delayed until the next day after a hydraulic pump failed. Passengers waited hours at the terminal for the pump to be fixed; then a final check discovered an unrelated leak in a hydraulic hose to the landing gear. The flight didn’t take off until next day.

Norwegian flies its two 787s on a strenuous schedule with tight turnaround times, often just two hours. One plane flies on alternate days between Oslo and Bangkok, then Oslo and JFK, while the other does the same from Stockholm.

Norwegian has no other long-haul jets to use as quick replacements if a 787 is out of service.

Strickland said that high-pressure schedule, which he called “challenging even for an established airplane, may be partly to blame.

“It doesn’t allow much leeway for any kind of snag,” Strickland said. “To expect a new aircraft at this level of technology to deliver an intense, day-to-day, long-haul program is ambitious.

“You’ve got to put more slack in the system,” he added.

Separately Wednesday, LOT, an airline that has been struggling to survive even with hefty emergency subsidies from the Polish government, detailed how it had to ground two Dreamliners for a couple of days this month.

LOT’s U.K.-based airplane-maintenance subcontractor, Monarch Aircraft Engineering, found a fuel filter missing in each of the two Rolls-Royce engines on one 787.

LOT spokeswoman Barbara Pijanowska-Kuras said the issue posed “no threat to flight safety” because each engine has two filters.

Nevertheless, she said LOT immediately inspected the other jets in its fleet of five Dreamliners. They found another missing fuel filter in one engine of a different 787.

The missing filters have been replaced and all its 787s are back in service, LOT said.

Pijanowska-Kuras said the aircraft had been operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and all engine work was left to Monarch, a maintenance subcontractor certified by Boeing.

Boeing spokesman Alder said no other 787s in the worldwide fleet have reported this problem. The company will study the cause and “will implement the appropriate changes to ensure it does not happen again,” Alder said.

The 787 had bigger technical troubles earlier in the year.

The entire fleet was completely grounded for three-and-a-half months after the jet’s main batteries overheated in two major incidents. Boeing had to engineer a heavy-duty enclosure to contain any potential battery fire.

And just months after that grounding was lifted, an unrelated fire broke out on a 787 parked at London’s Heathrow airport in July.

Regulators soon afterward ordered inspections of a small electronic device used in emergencies, though the precise cause of that fire is still being investigated.

By comparison, the latest run of component failures appears niggling.

Strickland said he’s been around many new aircraft introductions and “they’ve always had technical issues.”

He recalled working for British Caledonian in the late 1980s when the new Airbus A320 was introduced. He said the maintenance crews quickly dubbed it the Groundbus because technical problems regularly kept it from flying.

Today, that plane “is as much a workhorse as the (Boeing) 737,” he said.

Boeing’s Alder said the 787 fleet — currently at 85 airplanes delivered to 14 customers — is averaging about 200 flights per day, and has flown more than 36,000 passenger flights since the 787 entered service.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published Sept.25, 2013, was corrected Sept. 27, 2013. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that LOT temporarily grounded all five of its Dreamliners. All five were inspected, but only the two with missing fuel filters were taken out of schedule.

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