Rolls-Royce's well-publicised problems with the Trent 1000 engine, which grounded the Boeing 787s of operators such as Virgin Atlantic, have put a big cloud over what might have been a bright year–especially with the Trent XWB that powers the Airbus A350.
Last month, just days after outlining the progress it made on handling the durability issue affecting the intermediate pressure compressor (IPC) rotor 1 and rotor 2 blades in the Trent 1000 Package C engines that power Boeing 787-8s and -9s, the British aero engine manufacturer had to concede it found similar problems on the Package B variant.
Rolls then revealed it would cut 4,600 full-time employees over the next two years, representing roughly 8 percent of the group’s 55,000-strong workforce. According to Rolls, the redundancies—of which one-third will take place before year-end—will not impact the capabilities it needs to support its engine ramp-up programs or the in-service issues with the Trent 1000 engines. “We are poised to become the world leader in large aircraft engines. But we want to make the business as world class as our engineering and technology,” chief executive Warren East insisted.
Large-engine deliveries totaled 483 last year, up by 35 percent from 357 engines in 2016 and bringing its large-engine fleet in active service to more than 4,400 engines at the end of 2017, up 7 percent year-on-year. With revenue of £8 billion on a group total of £15.1 billion and 24,500 employees, civil aerospace is by far and large Rolls’ largest unit.
However, the division turned a pro forma £330 million operating loss based on new accounting standards that come into force this year. The new IFRS15 accounting rules change the way Rolls can recognize revenues from engine sales and services, the latter accounting for £4.2 billion in 2017 revenues, 52 percent of civil aerospace revenues and 28 percent of group revenues. It is the unit’s moneymaker, whereas each widebody engine is being sold at a £1.6 million loss.
The civil aerospace business is expected to reduce the deficit by a third this year, though the faster-than-expected deterioration of the Trent 1000’s blades is not making the task easy. Rolls last month was forced to revise the anticipated cash costs associated with in-service issues on the Trent 1000 Package C and B engines and the Trent 900 that powers the Airbus A380 to £440 million this year, £100 million more than initially guided in March.
Rolls-Royce declined to comment whether this figure includes compensation to airlines, pointing out that the majority of Trent 1000 engines are covered by a Total Care service agreement under which the manufacturer guarantees the airline will be able to fly the aircraft.
IAG CEO Willie Walsh and Bjorn Kjos, chief executive of Oslo-based low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle have been very explicit they want compensation from the OEM. Some 15 airlines are affected by the Package C and B troubles, which is forcing them to seek temporary capacity to replace their 787s while they are grounded for inspections and repairs or unable to fly long routes owing to ETOPS limitations imposed by airworthiness authorities. Most severely affected, according to Rolls, are ANA, LATAM, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Norwegian, and Air New Zealand.
The latest variant of the engine, the Trent 1000 TEN, which is now the standard powerplant for all new-build 787s, so far remains unaffected. Rolls believes it is unlikely the variant will show the same problems, though it still decided to proactively redesign the relevant part and expects to have that available next year.
The April 19 Airworthiness Directive (AD) issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and adopted globally, mandated the inspections on the compressors of 383 Package C in-service engines. The "majority" passed inspection and therefore continued to fly, according to a Rolls-Royce spokesman, who declined to enumerate “majority.”
An executive close to the Trent 1000 engines issue told AIN that 29 percent of the powerplants have failed the initial checks required by regulators and needed repairs. All of the engines have undergone the first checks by the June 9 deadline. Follow-up inspections, however, each require 80 cycles.
Aiming to minimize what civil aerospace president Chris Cholerton admits are “unacceptable levels of disruption” its customers are facing, Rolls-Royce has tripled maintenance capacity for affected engines and introduced a new ultra-sonic inspection technique. Inspection can be done on the wing and takes four to five hours, and is mostly done overnight.
Cracked blades, however, require an engine shop and a best-case scenario turnaround takes three to four weeks, the spokesman said, stressing the manufacturer is not facing any IPC supply issues. “We have plenty of parts. That is not causing any delay,” he said.
It also has accelerated the development of a permanent fix using new simulation processes and “fast make” competences in its supply chain. Testing of a revised compressor blade in an engine started in June and Rolls-Royce is hoping to wrap up the test phase end July to mid-August, after which it will move into certification phase and production.
The OEM is targeting to have “first parts available for engine overhaul in late 2018, rather than 2019 as originally planned,” Cholerton said. Details of the new blade might be released this week at the Farnborough Airshow, although the company is focussing its attention at the show on the Trent XWB, Trent 7000 that powers the A330neo that will go into commercial service with launch customer TAP Portugal later this year, and its “intelligent engine” that is part of its vision of the future.
At the end of June, conversations were still ongoing with EASA and the FAA to lift the ETOPS restrictions, which the Rolls executive described as a “real pain” for airlines. ETOPS limitations remained in place even on aircraft with engines fitted with a new blade. The ETOPS order applied only to Package C engines.
Meanwhile, inspections of the IPC rotor 1 and rotor 2 blades and shaft stage 2 dovetail posts on Trent 1000 Package B power plants are revealing failure rates that are “considerably lower” than on the package C variant, the spokesman said, while declining to go into more details. Cracks are found on about 8 percent of the blades, AIN has learned.
EASA issued a June 12 AD ordering one-off inspections within 30 days on Package B engines, which have accumulated 1,000 flight cycles; the deadline for the other units is 60 days. In total, 166 Package B engines are installed on active aircraft. The engine went into service in 2012.