The Airbus A320neo aircraft has been in the news recently for engine issues with their engine supplier Pratt & Whitney. PW launched a new engine with the Geared Turbo Fan technology which is supposed to be 16% more fuel efficient than the classic engines.
The newer engines were inducted into service in 2016 on 111 aircraft delivered across the globe. With India being one of the biggest markets for Airbus A320s (IndiGo, Vistara, GoAir, Air India being customers), quite naturally some of these planes came to India. Specifically IndiGo and GoAir went with the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines on their A320neos.
However, these engines are going through a troubled phase right now, which, unfortunately, is rubbing off on Airbus and the airlines as well. Last year, there were altitude restrictions on these planes, which were flying at 30,000 feet to ensure the engine did not get strained. Not only that, there were 84 flights cancelled one day, because of engine trouble. The promised savings out of the window. Moreover, just as late last year we heard the problem for the engine was over, and PW was supplying more spare engines to these airlines to ensure they had spares if things go wrong… there was new trouble brewing.
A new issue came to notice earlier in February with the A320neos, engine related again. This issue could cause an in-flight shutdown of the engine. To be on the safer side, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued an Emergency Directive, stating that no plane with both their engines having these affected engines should be in the air. If an aircraft had one affected engine, it could fly, except not on long routes.
Since IndiGo had three aircraft with both engines affected, they grounded those three planes: VT-IVB, VT-IVD, VT-ITO. On their part, Airbus stopped delivery of planes with Pratt & Whitney engines to customers with immediate effect.
India Grounds all Airbus A320neo planes with affected engines
Yesterday evening, however, India took the drastic measure of grounding all A320neos in India powered by the new GTF engine and marked as affected by the EASA. That means, even A320neos with one PW1100G engine which has a troubled seal, causing vibrations are not allowed to fly any longer as per DGCA. This is coming after three incidents happened with emergency landings of planes with one such engine (VT-WGB, VT-ITA, VT-ITJ) within the past one month.
EASA looks at these planes as perfectly safe to fly, but well, as the local regulator, has oversight, and they have decided that these planes need to be grounded for the time being. According to a Pratt & Whitney statement,
We are working closely with our customers to minimize disruption. The corrective action has been approved and we have already begun to deliver production engines with the upgraded configuration. We are working to mitigate the AOG situation by the end of the second quarter.
DGCA states that there is no firm solution to the issue. However, PW in a late February 2018 statement said,
Pratt & Whitney has released a revised configuration as a solution to the issue relating to a knife edge seal on the High Pressure Compressor (HPC) aft hub which affected a limited subpopulation of the PW1100G-JM engine that powers the Airbus A320neo aircraft.
The solution is based on a design with which the company has significant experience, and this solution has received all necessary regulatory approvals. Pratt & Whitney has begun implementing this solution and production engine deliveries incorporating this change will begin in early March.
The company will continue to work with Airbus and its mutual airline customers to minimize operational disruption.
Some of these aircraft could switch engines amongst themselves and then take to the skies again. However, as per PW, it would take until June 2018 to fix the issue, and in the DGCA book, PW does not even have a fix for the problem yet.
The airlines have confirmed they have grounded these planes with immediate effect. What does that mean for the airlines? It is understood that IndiGo has about 50 flights cancelled today. They are already working with a leased fleet to soften the blow of the issues they are facing, but this will take time to recover after the latest notification from DGCA.
It sucks that there are so many aircraft on the ground and so many flights cancelled, but there is nothing that anyone can do given this concerns passenger safety. Let’s hope that PW comes up with the fix quickly and once it is certified and on those planes, they can be in the air faster. Given this is going to be holiday season going forward, many leisure travellers will have their flights in the hands of these carriers, and I hope their plans go through smoothly.