Aviation regulator issues Dreamliner probe alert for Kenya Airways


Kenya Airways’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The aviation regulator will monitor Kenya Airways’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet to establish compliance with safety requirements after the US manufacturer raised concerns that have led to the grounding of eight planes worldwide.

Boeing Company found two distinct manufacturing faults affecting the fuselage of eight 787 Dreamliner jets and said the planes must be removed from service for repair, raising concerns that others could also be facing the same problem.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe said the regulator had received communication from Boeing and is acting on it.

“There is ongoing surveillance on the airline to determine compliance,” Mr Kibe said in response to queries from the Business Daily.

Kenya Airways operates nine of this type of aircraft, billed as more fuel-efficient, mainly for long-haul flights and at times for the medium range destinations.

Air Canada, United Airlines Holdings Inc and Singapore Airlines Ltd said they each had one of the eight grounded jets.

The flaws were found in the joint of sections toward the rear of the aircraft, according to a communication from Boeing last Friday.

The manufacturer said all the jets that have been grounded as a result of this fault must be inspected and repaired before they can take to the skies again.

KQ, as the national carrier is known by its international code, has been using its fleet of Boeing 787s to transport cargo to Europe and Asia since the Covid-19 pandemic diminished passenger travel.

The problems, which are the second to be raised this year after another fault was detected on a different model of Boeing planes, adds to the succession of woes for the American manufacturer whose main rival is European multinational Airbus SE.

Operators of the Boeing 737 New Generation aircraft were forced to inspect afresh the engines of the planes after the US aviation regulator warned that they could stall mid-air after being grounded for months.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the planes that have been idle since the outbreak of the pandemic could form corrosion on the air check valves, an anomaly that can lead to stalling of the two engines when the airplane is flying.

KQ has 10 Boeing 737NG — mainly used for mid-range flights such as African destinations –in its fleet of 42. The FAA safety notice will affect more than 7,000 of 737NGs planes that Boeing has delivered to carriers globally.

However, most conspicuous of all is the Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded since March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people aboard Indonesian and Ethiopian carriers.

The company was forced to come up with changes to this narrow-body’s flight control system and they have been undergoing testing by the FAA. The planes are expected to be cleared for flight by year-end.

The reports about the Dreamliners’ defects comes at a time when KQ has opened talks with its lessors to convert some of the planes to freighters as the carrier seeks to utilise the idle capacity following a sharp drop in demand for passengers.

The company’s chief executive officer, Allan Kilavuka, said the negotiations to allow KQ to remove seats in some of the aircraft and convert them into cargo transporters had already begun.

Mr Kilavuka said the move will help the carrier to use the large-capacity aircraft for long-haul cargo services between Africa and other continents.

The national carrier resumed international flights early last month with about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to the pandemic.

This is down from the 56 destinations it was serving prior to the outbreak of the respiratory disease in the country.

KQ said Covid-19 had hurt demand for air travel worldwide hence the need to scale down the number of routes and flight frequencies.