Norwegian grounds B787 until further notice

29 Sep 2013 by Alex McWhirter

Norwegian Air has grounded a B787 Dreamliner after the aircraft was left stranded in Bangkok with hydraulic pump failure.

The budget carrier, which has to date received two of the eight B787s it ordered, has demanded Boeing fix the aircraft, which will now be flown back empty to Stockholm.

Norwegian's spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Neilsen told the Seattle Times the plane "has not been reliable enough and passengers had been subject to too many delays".

The airline had believed the fuel-efficient B787 would make low-cost, long-haul succeed in a market where others had failed, as we report in the new October 2013 issue of Business Traveller.

But its first two B787s delivered from Boeing have proved troublesome, leading to flight delays of hours or even days.

Embarassingly, a recent VIP launch party in Bangkok for the carrier's new route, which was to be attended by Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos and other senior management, had to be cancelled at the last minute because their B787 was grounded in Scandinavia with technical issues.

All of which leads to Norwegian's drastic step of grounding the newest of the two B787s after the aircraft in question was stranded in Bangkok

It's akin to the situation where an unhappy car buyer returns his new vehicle to the dealer and refuses to take it back until all the faults are rectified.

Reports in the Scandinavian media suggest that since May, Norwegian’s ontime performance on its two B787-operated long-haul routes (to New York and Bangkok) has fallen to just 49 per cent.

Norwegian had rostered its two B787s intensively with short destination turnaround, but airline experts believe that Norwegian was naive to expect that a new and revolutionary plane type would deliver almost perfect reliability from day one.

Meanwhile, Norwegian has again been forced to charter in a replacement plane from Portuguese carrier Hi-Fly. But the aircraft in question, a fuel thirsty A340, is not designed (as Air AsiaX discovered) to operate low-cost, long-haul so the bills will be mounting.

It is unclear whether or not Boeing will pick up the tab for the latest disruption. Quoted by Reuters, Boeing said the repairs "will be fixed in a matter of days".

Be that as it may, Norwegian can ill afford any service disruption on its Bangkok routes as the competition grows by the day.

As Business Traveller reported in July (see news, July 26), the Gulf carriers are moving into Scandinavia and are, by the time Norwegian's ancillary fees are included, undercutting the budget carrier on price.

Alex McWhirter

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