Analysis: New trial for Boeing as Norwegian demands 787 repairs

Sun Sep 29, 2013 7:16pm EDT
 
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By Tim Hepher and Alwyn Scott

PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The brochure for Boeing Co's aircraft repair service makes a simple assertion: "No one knows Boeing airplanes better than Boeing."

Now that claim is being put to a visible test as budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA grounded a brand new, $212 million 787 Dreamliner over the weekend. The airline demanded Boeing fix the state-of-the-art jet, saying it needs repairs after less than 30 days in service.

Investment analysts say the glitch involving a hydraulic pump is minor and isolated, and it is unlikely to affect Boeing's stock price, which is towering at record levels.

But Norwegian Air's vocal airing of its complaints is another black eye for the troubled Dreamliner. It follows a string of electrical and other safety problems that included battery meltdowns so severe they prompted regulators to ban the long-haul jetliner from flight for more than three months this year.

On Sunday, Polish airline LOT 787 flying from Toronto to Warsaw was forced to land at Iceland's Keflavik airport after problems with its air system.

Norwegian Air's formal request on Saturday for Boeing to take charge of fixing the plane throw a spotlight on an often overlooked facet of the 787's performance: reliability. And it shows how quickly a plane that cannot fly can hit a carrier's bottom line.

Like other airlines with small long-haul fleets, Norwegian Air does not have a spare plane it can use if a jet breaks down. The carrier said it had to rent planes and cancel tickets when it could not use its 787s, and the company's stock has fallen 6 percent since a peak earlier this month, hit by a string of 787 problems and concerns about its broader business.

"Reliability is a big deal, especially for low-cost carriers such as Norwegian," said Russell Solomon, an analyst at Moody's Investors Service in New York.   Continued...

 
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane is seen in Long Beach, California March 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson