Virgin Hands London-NYC Flight to Delta as Boeing 787s Need Engine Fix

  • U.K. carrier moves service to ally so Dreamliners can be idled
  • Jets recalled by Rolls-Royce are latest to suffer blade wear

A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft, operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., takes off from Heathrow.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. has transferred one of its daily trans-Atlantic flights to U.S. ally Delta Air Lines Inc. so that some of its own Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner planes can be grounded for an engine fix.

Delta took over the London Heathrow-New York John F. Kennedy International service Thursday and will operate it until Oct. 31 using older Boeing 767s and possibly 777s. That will allow the Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc Trent 1000 turbines that power Virgin’s Dreamliners to receive attention, according to Craig Kreeger, the U.K. carrier’s chief executive officer.

“It’s a substitution that gives us a little bit more resilience as we’ve had some parts issues with our 787 engines,” Kreeger said in an interview. “This ensures that we’ll have sufficient capacity. It’s circumstantial, it’s not a strategy.”

Rolls-Royce said Aug. 1 that as many as 500 Trent 1000s would need earlier-than-expected maintenance because of wear issues affecting the fan blades. The problem was first identified last year when ANA Holdings Inc., the 787’s launch customer, reported turbine damage on three planes. Virgin operates 13 787s out of an order for 17, and also took some out of service in April.

“We have a clear service management plan in place with all operators to undertake this work and minimize disruption,” Rolls-Royce said in a statement, adding that the interval for the work will be kept “as short as possible.”

Not all Rolls-powered 787s will need early attention, the U.K. manufacturer said. Additional maintenance costs on the Trent 1000 were the biggest component of 59 million pounds ($78 million) in technical costs that the company posted in the first half.

Delta, which bought a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2012, said in a statement that such route changes “show the benefit of the Delta and Virgin Atlantic partnership and how we work together.”

Virgin said last month that starting next March it would take one of its partner’s U.K.-U.S. flights, giving it six of eight daily services across the pair’s joint venture. Delta will meanwhile upgrade to Airbus SE A330s from 767s on routes between Heathrow and JFK, Atlanta and Detroit.

— With assistance by Benjamin D Katz

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