Norwegian CEO seeks urgent meeting with Boeing

6 Jan 2014 by Alex McWhirter

Norwegian boss Bjorn Kjos is seeking an urgent meeting with Boeing executives about why his airline's Dreamliner fleet continues to be plagued by technical problems.

Passengers taking Norwegian's B787s to the US and Bangkok have had a tough time over the past few months.

As we reported back in September, Norwegian demanded Boeing sort out the two B787s it then had in its fleet (see news, September 2013). One aircraft was left stranded in Bangkok with hydraulic pump failure.

Boeing was supposed to have ironed out the teething problems. But faults are still cropping up.

Just before Christmas, two Dreamliners out of Norwegian's three-strong fleet broke down in the US, including its third and newest B787.

Yet again more issues emerged over the New Year period — on January 1, two Dreamliners were again grounded, one in New York (delayed 60 hours) and another in Bangkok (delayed 24 hours).

Although Norwegian rescued its passengers by chartering aircraft from other airlines, it still took time before the stranded could be flown to their destination.

And even when passengers did get to fly the B787 when it was operating, the inflight experience could leave much to be desired. Passengers on one 11-hour Bangkok to Scandinavia flight endured cabin temperatures of up to 32 degrees Centigrade owing to a malfunction, according to reports in the Norwegian media.

Asgeir Nyseth, executive director of Norwegian's long-haul division, last week admitted that the B787 operation had been full of "unfortunate circumstances".

Aviation analysts in Scandinavia say that Norwegian, while excellent at running short-haul services has not shown the same skill when operating long-haul.

It has been too clever by far, they claim, by intensively operating its B787s. They are scheduled to fly for up to 18 hours in every 24-hour period, leaving little room for recovery. One delay, for example, on a carrier's long-haul network leads to a ripple effect taking several days to correct.

And the idea of basing long-haul crew in Bangkok, to circumvent Scandinavian labour costs, may turn out to be a mistake as Thailand is remote from where most of Norwegian's flying takes place. It means that when flights are delayed and crew rosters disrupted, it is difficult to obtain replacement staff at short notice.

Industry expert John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, tweeted me: "[Norwegian acquired] a small fleet of very new technology aircraft. Remote station. Peak travel period and no back-up plan. Not good."

Norwegian will take delivery of several more B787s before the summer as it prepares to expand transatlantic services from both Scandinavia and London Gatwick (see news, October 2013). Last month, it signed an agreement to lease two new B787-9 Dreamliners (see news, December 2013).

But with more tight scheduling planned over the peak summer period one must hope for improved reliability.

Alex McWhirter

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