NEW YORK (Reuters) - The chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA (NWC.OL) said on Thursday that Boeing Co (BA.N) redesigned an important part to fix a faulty 787 Dreamliner, revealing a more extensive reworking of the high-tech, $200 million jet than had previously been disclosed.
Bjorn Kjos told Reuters in an interview that Boeing created a new version of a malfunctioning hydraulic pump that controls flaps used to steer the plane as part of a two-week overhaul to fix problems with the jet. (Reuters interview: reut.rs/1adre8g)
Boeing had said it was installing improved equipment on the plane as part of the overhaul, but stopped short of saying it redesigned the hydraulic pump. The distinction is significant because Boeing redesigned the battery system on the plane earlier this year after batteries burned on two of the jets.
In the interview, Norwegian Air’s CEO also ended weeks of criticism of Boeing, saying the Dreamliner’s low operating costs enabled his airline to bring budget fares to the long-haul travel market.
“I think the Dreamliner is going to be a fantastic aircraft,” said Kjos, a former fighter-jet pilot.
“We know from the one that has flown very well so far, that it is performing fantastic” on fuel burn “and passengers love it.”
The CEO’s softer tone contrasts with previous frustration with the Dreamliner, which has suffered a string of troubles since it entered service two years ago. Among previous remarks, the airline has said, “(The) Dreamliner has proven to be more of a nightmare for airlines relying on this new craft, especially Norwegian Air Shuttle.”
Taking the plane out of service forced Norwegian Air to lease an Airbus EAD.PA A340 jet, and stranded passengers for 12 hours. Kjos declined to disclose the cost of those measures, but said fuel burn on the four-engine Airbus jet was high, especially compared with the next-generation, two-engine 787.
“Obviously it is no good that the passengers are delayed for 12 hours. You shouldn’t accept that. So I am angry on behalf of the passengers. But I know Boeing will fix this aircraft. They have the resources to fix it and they know how to fix it.”
He said Boeing had sent 15 people from Seattle to work on the plane in Stockholm.
Boeing did not respond to requests for comment.
Kjos said Boeing redesigned the hydraulic pump to make it more reliable after Norwegian Air and other airlines had pump failures as well. He said Boeing is completing two weeks of overhauling Norwegian Air’s faulty 787 Dreamliner, fixing the pump and other equipment. He said the plane’s electrical system was “fine” but software flaws had caused incorrect warnings to appear in the cockpit, and problems with interior lighting.
Only one of the airline’s two 787 Dreamliners had serious issues, he said, and that plane is due back from service by Boeing this week. The other plane will then go in for the same two-week repair under the “GoldCare” service plan that Norwegian Air had purchased with the jet.
He said GoldCare “will pay off” economically because Boeing is the best at repairing the plane. Having other technicians work on a 787 is like having mechanics familiar with a 1995 car fix a 2013 car. “They could do it, but it takes training.”
Kjos said he wants to buy more 787s - including the forthcoming stretch version, the 787-9 - to allow passenger growth at Norwegian Air that he forecast at 20 percent a year, up from about 20 million passengers a year currently. But he provided no details on potential orders or timing.
“Nothing can substitute a Dreamliner. I‘m totally convinced that we made the right decision when we went for the Dreamliner,” he said.
Kjos said he was not considering the 787-10, because that longer version has less range than the 787-9 model. He also was not interested in the Airbus A350, a competing plane that recently beat out Boeing’s yet-to-be-launched 777X for a landmark order from Japan Airlines Co Ltd (9201.T) breaking the lock on JAL that Boeing has held for decades.
Kjos also said Bombardier Inc’s (BBDb.TO) new all-composite CSeries was too small at 149 seats. Norwegian’s mainstay 737 jets have seating for about 189 passengers, he said.
The 777X would likely be too large for Norwegian Air’s use and lacks the composite fuselage that makes the 787 lighter and more fuel efficient, he added.
Norwegian Air has been approached by a number of airlines that wanted to be acquired, Kjos said, but he declined to entertain the offers. The airline is not in talks with LOT Polish Airlines LOT.UL about a buyout or about purchasing that airline’s 787s, which also have experienced problems, he said, responding to reports that they had held discussions.
“We have said no. We are doing fine on our own,” Kjos said.
Norwegian Air’s forecast growth of 20 percent a year in coming years will require more 787s beyond the eight it already has ordered, with two delivered, he added.
The airline is considering destinations that include Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Seattle and Minneapolis. Those flights might not all go through Europe.
“We fly where people fly,” he said, noting a huge demand - and competition - from Asia to Europe and the United States.
The airline is hiring flight crews based in New York and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to allow more flights from those cities as it receives more Dreamliners in coming months.
Norwegian Air is due to receive its third Dreamliner in late November and a fourth early next year. Those jets will allow it to begin daily flights from New York, Kjos said.
Norwegian Air is the first budget airline in recent years to offer transatlantic services. It plans to fly to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orlando, Florida, on top of its routes to Fort Lauderdale and New York.
Last year, Norwegian Air placed Europe’s biggest aircraft order when it bought 222 planes from Boeing and Airbus. It has been one of Europe’s most successful carriers, taking market share from SAS AB (SAS.ST) while moving outside its traditional Nordic market by setting up bases in London and Spain.
The airline said it can operate long-haul flights for 30 percent less than traditional airlines, mainly because of the Dreamliner’s lower operating cost and the jet’s ability to fly for 18 out of 24 hours, he said.
Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Marguerita Choy, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker