Friday, February 16, 2018

Should the A320neo’s engine problems worry you?

If you’re flying within India, there is at least a 70% chance you will be on an Airbus plane. Its workhorse is the Airbus A320, now among the most successful jets in history, with 266 in service in India (as of January 2018). So should you be worried about all the chatter around engine trouble on the A320’s latest model—the A320neo?

Whose engine is it anyway?
While it is Airbus’ job to build the plane, the engines come from other manufacturers. In the case of the A320neos, Pratt & Whitney, an American engine-maker, developed a new engine called the PW1100G to power the A320neo. This engine was based on a newer technology called a Geared Turbofan Engine. The newer engines promised to be 16% fuel efficient as compared to the old ones and 75% less noisy as well on the ground. They were inducted into service in 2016 and currently power 111 airplanes across the globe. The A320neo was fast adopted by Indian airlines as well, including Air India, Vistara, IndiGo and GoAir and they are all inducting these newer planes into their fleet now.
However, this newer technology has seen some teething troubles, as it often happens with new technology. The problems included longer start-up times as well as premature wear and tear of two components on the engine. With the hot weather of India, this wear and tear would accentuate.

Last year, GoAir and IndiGo had to fly these planes at lower altitudes of 30,000ft—as against the more economical 36,000ft to ensure the engines did not get strained. It also led to some planes being grounded due to reliability issues, leading to the cancellation of 84 flights on one day. That issue was fixed later in the year and by November 2017 both airlines were flying with zero groundings.
To ensure customers don’t have flight cancellations and the airline does not lose business, however, IndiGo moved forward to lease planes to add to their fleet. This would have been the only way to go, since airplane deliveries are factored into the schedule and tickets are sold a while before the plane comes into service. That should explain to you why you sometimes will end up with a plane from Small World Airlines with foreign pilots and cabin crew.

There is a new issue, however, that has come to notice earlier this month with this engine, which could cause an in-flight shutdown of the engine. The European Aviation Safety Agency issued an emergency order late last week, which requires that no plane with both their engines being affected should be operated. For planes with one affected engine, they ordered that these flights are not suitable for extended-range flying.
16/02/18 Ajay Awtaney/Conde Nast Traveller