(Updated with ANA explanation)
A series of piecemeal reports and statements in the media in Japan say that the launch customer for the Dreamliner, ANA, has grounded five out of 11 of its current fleet of 787-8s.
The reports point a finger at suspected faulty parts in its Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, but leave a host of questions unanswered or evaded.
They also add to confusion in the technical media as to exactly what the status of dozens of delayed 787s are in Everett, where the final assembly line for the Dreamliners appears to be clogged with jets that look complete in most cases but continue to require reworking to fix quality issues.
The relevance of this in Australia is that Qantas has 15 of the model currently in production, the 787-8, in its order for 50 Dreamliners, the balance being -9s, which is the model said to be variously in final design tweaking or moving toward first flight at a date unknown for delivery to launch customer Air New Zealand in mid 2014.
The Qantas jets, the first of which will go to Jetstar some time late next year, use the alternative engine from GE. It would be fair to say that under current Qantas guidance, its immediate fleet renewal strategy is completely at the mercy of 787 deliveries meeting all specifications without further delays.
Update: A document in Japanese and English has been provided since this article was posted, which explains the reasons for a precautionary grounding of the five 787s and includes an illustration of the engine and suspect component.
We received a message from Boeing to the effect that there may be an issue with the gearbox (possible damaged gear) on the engines of the 787s in the ANA fleet. No related problems have arisen on our 787s, however, we have ascertained that the part at issue is fitted to five of our 11 strong fleet. Working with Boeing, we will replace the part in question and return our fleet to an operating state as quickly as possible.
The remaining six aircraft in the ANA fleet have not been affected by this issue and we will continue to operate them safely.
Damage was discovered in a Rolls-Royce engine gearbox used for endurance testing on the ground. A specific gear showed corrosion due to an issue in the surface treatment at the time of production, which led to damage to the gear box. Certain 787 engines within the ANA fleet have gears produced using the same process, that may possibly lead to corrosion.