Problems with the Rolls Royce engines powering Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner planes have forced Air New Zealand to cancel thousands of flights over the Christmas season, its busiest flying season.

The cancellations will affect about 14,000 passengers on international routes New Zealand flies to and from Australia and Tonga. The airline is suspending its Christchurch-Perth service and eliminating half of its Auckland-Perth flights between Dec. 10 and Jan. 5. Twenty additional flights, mostly between Auckland and Sydney, will also be grounded. The cancellations affect 62 routine flights in all.

The airline says that additional schedule changes may be necessary as it “progresses the engine checks.” It currently operates a fleet of 14 787-9 Dreamliners and keeps four spare engines but all of them are with Rolls Royce facilities abroad either undergoing service or waiting for a service slot.

The issue stems from the high-pressure turbine blades in Trent 1000 TEN engine models made by Rolls Royce. The blades may be unable to withstand the pressure under which they operate because they wear out much sooner than expected.

Air New Zealand first experienced problems with the engines in 2017 when two nearly identical in-flight turbine blade failure incidents occurred in consecutive days. Passengers on flights from Auckland, New Zealand, to Buenos Aires and Tokyo reported hearing “clunking” and feeling severe vibrations, according to the Independent.

Once engineers discovered the turbine blades were wearing out a lot faster than expected, a number of airlines grounded more than 200 Boeing 787-9 aircraft worldwide.

Earlier in November, Rolls-Royce delayed the introduction of its redesigned high-pressure blade for the Trent 1000 TEN after discovering that it still failed to meet expectations for endurance. The company now says the redesigned blade is unlikely to be ready before the first half of 2021 – at least a year after its target date.

According to the Independent, however, Rolls Royce said it was “resetting financial and operational expectations” in solving the problem and that pushed the completion date for a permanent fix to 2023.

In the meantime, the company has tripled its maintenance capacity for the troubled engines and introduced new inspection protocols as temporary safety measures. Air New Zealand and other airlines operating Boeing 787-9 aircraft with the Rolls Royce engines are also leasing planes from other carriers to offset the disruptions.

Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

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