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LATAM chief blasts engine makers for aircraft grounding

LATAM Airlines Group chief executive Enrique Cueto has slammed engine manufacturers for the issues that grounded the carrier's Boeing 787 and Airbus A320neo aircraft.

"In this million dollar dance, what the manufacturers are doing is not acceptable," Cueto said during a chief executive panel at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Panama City on 30 October.

The lack of certainty on the number of aircraft that would be impacted has made it difficult for the airline to plan, says a frustrated Cueto. LATAM was forced to wet-lease Airbus A330s and a Boeing 747 in the second quarter to operate flights in place of the 787s.

A senior Rolls-Royce executive who had visited LATAM in Santiago told the carrier that it would have "maximum" two 787s grounded due to problems with the type's Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. But the airline was eventually forced to ground as many as 14 aircraft, says Cueto.

"If they had told you six or seven months ahead that you might need to ground 14 aircraft, you can plan and prepare," says Cueto. "The lack of anticipation we've had is incredible… we are not having the product that we should."

He notes that the airline operates the type on long-haul routes across the South Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, making the situation more complex.

A LATAM spokesman tells FlightGlobal that four of the airline's 24 787s remain on the ground currently, awaiting preventive engine maintenance from Rolls-Royce.

The airline has four A320neos in service, and had also previously reported delivery delays with the type, due to well-documented issues with the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine.

Like LATAM, Avianca also had to ground two 787s for engine repairs, although the airline's entire 13-aircraft 787 fleet is in service currently, albeit with certain operational restrictions.

Avianca chief executive Hernan Rincon says the 787 grounding was a "PR [public relations] problem" for the airline, as passengers had complained about the older wet-leased aircraft that had replaced the 787s on flights.

"Some passengers said they felt they were being discriminated against," says Rincon.

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