DGCA orders grounding of faulty PW1100G-JM Pratt & Whitney engines; customers of IndiGo and GoAir left fuming

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 13, 2018 13:08 hrs

The country’s aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered for grounding of Pratt and Whitney engines. The move was ordered on Monday, after in-flight incidents on narrow body planes powered by Pratt and Whitney on the Airbus A320neo prompted safety concerns.

The jetliners operating with a seal were found causing vibrations, and thereby rendering safety issues, said the Aviation regulators. The civil aviation had scathing observations to make on the safety of Pratt and Whitney's engine- PW1100G-JM. Various European regulators too have found faults with the engine. 

Although Pratt and Whitney claimed that this was the next-generation geared turbofan engine, this is the latest of troubles for the "knife-edge compressor seal".

In its press communications, United Technologies Corporation, the parent company of Pratt and Whitney, claimed the quiter engine as more fuel-efficient than the ones produced by its competitors. UTC said that it looked to years of profitability with nearly 8,000 such engines on order.

In February, tests by the company on its Knife edge seals, "did not perform as anticipated", according to company officials. The company had tested four engines which underwent a change to improve durability.

The Aviation regulator in its observation in February found severe issues, including defective components that led planes to fly with only engine. Planes operate on two engines. When one fails, the other engine ensures safety. Pratt & Whitney said they will fix the faulty component by June, but the Indian regulator claimed that it will not allow airlines to operate mid-air with only one operational engine. Pratt and Whitney claimed to have no concrete proposal in place to fix the issue immediately.

According to a statement issued by the engine-maker, it may take as much as the start of the second quarter to address the issue.

Following the move, the Indian regulator has started acting on narrow airlines, mainly the Airbus A320neo. The DGCA clarified that not all Pratt and Whitney or Airbus engines were grounded. Only a few of them with faulty engines were grounded for safety of passengers.

A total of eight flights operated by IndiGo and three from GoAir have been grounded so far. This number is expected to rise considering many Indian airlines had placed orders for over hundreds of A320neo planes. There have been delays owing to faults in the engines.

As many as 65 flights were cancelled after the DGCA move. Customers bore the brunt and horrifying experience after planes of IndiGo and GoAir were grounded.

Lt Cdr SK Sharma called the engines "garbage". Here is his tweet:

The Airbus A320neo is powered by Pratt and Whitney's PW1100G-JM engine. Here are aviation companies that had lined up to buy airbus A320neo that was powered with the PW1100G-JM engine.

  • GoAir- In November 8 2017, GoAir said it will buy 72 A320 at a cost of Rs 52000 crore. Back then GoAir had a fleet size of 23
  • IndiGo- Has 19 operational A320neos and a pending order of at least 411 planes.
  • AirIndia- According to Airbus, Air India has at least one flight in its operation, and placed orders for 14 such aircrafts. But AI communicated that it deferred its decision.

It appears that IndiGo was already aware of the technical snags on these planes. The DGCA had warned these operators to increase surveillance and restrictions. But instead of dumping these airlines, IndiGo ordered its pilots to limit altitude to 30,000 feet instead of 36,000 feet. Doing so, would reduce the stress on the engine and help avoid technical glitches, said officials from IndiGo in a note to its pilots. LiveMint covered the story.

Analysts compared the issues as the ones faced by the Boeing's Dreamliner series, in service with Air India.

The faulty engines have been in news since 2017, and Ashok Gajapathi Raju, the aviation minister back then, had said grounding was the regulator's way of pressing for compliance.

Back then he said, "Why are they grounded? That is because of the regulations. You don't want to take risks with life. Everybody is working on it (the engine issues). As long as glitches don't massacre human beings, it is okay. They will be addressed and sorted out."

So far eleven planes have been grounded, but there are more shutdowns, grounding and delays expected with the faulty PW1100 engine.

Here is a press release from the company:

Pratt & Whitney with the support of Airbus, is in close contact with customers to address the results of a recent finding related to the knife edge seal in the High Pressure Compressor (HPC) aft hub on the PW1100G-JM engine powering the A320neo. This issue is isolated to a limited subpopulation of engines.

We have identified the potentially affected engines and communicated with our customers. As a precaution, aircraft with these engines will be addressed in a manner consistent with the operational instructions issued by Airbus and coordinated between Airbus and Pratt & Whitney as needed.

Since entering service in January 2016, these engines have more than 500,000 hours of passenger service. The GTF engine has demonstrated its promised ability to reduce fuel burn by 16 percent to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent to the regulatory standard, and to lower the noise footprint by 75 percent.

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