A pending regulatory mandate will give Boeing 787 operators flying so-called "Package B" versions of Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines 30 days to inspect intermediate pressure compressor (IPC) blades for cracks, setting the stage for perhaps more groundings for the troubled Boeing twinjet.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) directive, expected in the coming days, is based on Rolls-Royce input following tests that focused on widespread durability issues in Package C IPC blades. Rolls-Royce confirms that the new issue, which the manufacturer says potentially affects all 166 Package B engines in service, is similar to the problems that have grounded more than 30 Package C-powered Boeing 787s.
The mandate is expected to call for a one-time inspection that Rolls-Royce said will "further inform our understanding" of the potential issues. The order is not expected to include restrictions on extended-range, twin-engine operations (ETOPS), but a follow-up mandate could change this, depending on findings and further analysis.
A series of progressively more aggressive inspection mandates on Package C-powered 787s includes ETOPS limits that affects aircraft with at least one engine that has more than 300 cycles. Affected aircraft must fly routes no more than 140 min. from the nearest suitable airport, rather than the aircraft/engine combination's approved 330-min. limit, to provide more margin in case of an engine failure.
This limit, combined with a lack of MRO capacity to fix engines that fail inspections—engines with cracked blades must be sent to engine shops for service—has forced affected carriers to lease supplemental lift to deal with groundings. Latam's Chilean operation has lined up seven leased aircraft to help replace out-of-service 787s—as of late last week, half of its 24-aircraft 787 fleet was grounded due to a combination of Trent 1000 maintenance issues. In addition, several Qatar Airways Airbus A330s are being used by British Airways to cover for grounded 787-8s and -9s. Virgin Atlantic has been able to secure several ex-Air Berlin A330s for services affected by its own 787 shortage.
While Rolls-Royce anticipates "a limited impact on customer operations," the company is optimistic hopeful that the Package B checks will not lead to significant disruptions. As part of its Package C support effort, Rolls-Royce developed an on-wing inspection process to speed up the inspection process. The on-wing check will be approved for use in the Package B mandate.
“We are working closely with our customers to minimize any operational impact of these inspections and we deeply appreciate their continued co-operation,” said Chris Cholerton, Rolls’ president for civil aerospace.
“We remain absolutely committed to eliminating this issue from the Trent 1000 fleet,” he added.
The Package C inspection program, which was wrapped up last week, could see as many as 50 787s grounded, roughly one-quarter of the fleet. Delays sourcing new or refurbished blades and a logjam at engine shops are the challenges. Last week, Rolls-Royce said it was adding dedicated Trent 1000 repair capacity help ease the backlog.
Rolls-Royce is re-designing the blades for its Trent 1000 Package B, C, and Ten versions, though it has not uncovered any issues with Ten blades. Different Trent 1000 versions can be intermixed on the same aircraft.