A rash of problems with the new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” jet, which also led to an emergency landing in Japan on Wednesday, hasn’t shaken the faith that Norwegian Air has in the aircraft. Norwegian, which also had to deal on Wednesday with reports of a near-collision last autumn, plans to start operating new Dreamliners itself later this spring on new long-haul routes to Bangkok and New York.
Other airlines have seen their Dreamliners turn into a nightmare, and two major carriers in Japan have now grounded their fleet of 787s. The grounding comes after an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Dreamliner had to make an emergency landing on Wednesday because of smoke in the cockpit. The 129 passengers and eight crew members on board had to evacuate the Tokyo-bound aircraft in Takamatsu, western Japan, by using its emergency slides.
It was the latest in a string of incidents involving the new long-distance, wide-body Boeing 787s. Other airlines have reported cracks in the cockpit windshield, oil leaks, a battery fire and technical glitches that erroneously indicated brake problems. ANA’s cockpit smoke was initially blamed on a problem with a battery.
ANA immediately grounded all 17 of its new Dreamliners and JAL did the same with its fleet of seven. Japanese transportation authorities called the cockpit smoke incident “serious,” and aviation authorities in India and the US, where airlines are operating the new 787s, were monitoring the situation and ordering checks.
Norwegian Air is among the airlines around the world that have ordered the high-speed, long-haul aircraft, and they’re a critical part of Norwegian’s planned launch into the long-haul market later this spring. Norwegian has ordered eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners, is due to take delivery of three this year and will put them into service on the new routes starting up to New York’s JFK airport on May 30 and to Bangkok on June 1. Ticket sales started in November.
Asked at a meeting on Tuesday with foreign correspondents in Oslo whether he was concerned about the problems with the jets, Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos said “no, not at all.” That was just before ANA’s 787 had to make its emergency landing, but on Wednesday, a Norwegian spokesperson continued to say that the airline retains confidence in the aircraft.
Kjos, a pilot himself, claimed there have been fewer problems with the new 787s than there were when the Boeing 777s were introduced in 1996-97. He called the 787 “a totally new concept” that offers “a different way of flying,” with sophisticated technical surveillance techniques that the industry has never seen before. Problems can be detected from the ground while the jet is in the air, he said, and he stressed that testing of the aircraft has been conducted to a much larger extent than with previous models. Norwegian chose to order the 787s because of their fuel efficiency, capacity, lower emissions and passenger comfort.
“You always have some minor things when you fly a new aircraft,” Kjos said. He also said the 787s have batteries that are “not typical” and that batteries can overheat. He’s confident that Boeing will address the problems that have cropped up in recent months, and believes Norwegian will still be able to take delivery of its first aircraft in April. Norwegian’s first new 787 will be 102nd in the production line. he said, and Boeing should have sorted out the problems by then.
Near-miss over Gardermoen
Meanwhile, newspaper VG reported on Wednesday that two Norwegian flights narrowly avoided a mid-air collision over Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL) on October 31 last year, and that the incident is under investigation by the state accident commission Havarikommisjonen.
One of the jets was on approach to OSL from the Værnes airport outside Trondheim, reported VG, while the other was taking off from OSL bound for Værnes. Air traffic controllers at OSL had given flight path orders to one of the jets that were picked up by the other, putting the two aircraft on a collision course before the misunderstanding was corrected.
The state commission has characterized the incident as very serious, because the two aircraft were briefly separated by just 160 meters vertically and horizontally by around 460 meters, far less than the minimum of 1,000 feet (300 meters). Norwegian officials declined comment while the investigation was underway, referring inquiries to the commission.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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