The Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan has had a difficult introduction, with several problems on the PW1100G powering the Airbus A320neo. The latest problem involves the aft hub knife edge seal within the high pressure compressor, which has resulted in-flight shutdowns. Pratt & Whitney and Airbus are well aware of the problem, as is EASA, the European safety agency. In early February, they issued an airworthiness directive to not pair two engines with this seal on an airplane, but allowing them to fly as long as one engine on the aircraft didn’t have the knife-edge seal in question. The Indian DGCA has now grounded the aircraft in India.
This comes just as Pratt & Whitney data indicate that they have solved all known problems on the aircraft, are delivering new engines that solve the latest issues, and are reporting better than expected performance, with a 16% improvement in fuel burn, between 1-2% better than the competing LEAP engine on the A320neo family.
There have been three incidents with in-flight shutdowns in 2018 per the DGCA, two involving IndiGo and one with GoAir. The latest incident, happened on Monday when an IndiGo flight was forced to return to Ahmedabad airport.
So the question is why the Indian authorities have take stronger action than the Europeans? One reason may be is that India has experienced several in-flight engine shutdowns. But the strangest part of the order, to us, is that the DGCA has also asked the airlines not to replace the engines, which is the solution to the problem. That to us, makes no sense whatsoever, as aircraft operating with 1 normal and 1 engine with a faulty seal could be swapped to reduce the number of grounded aircraft and minimize disruptions. It is almost as if the government is stacking the deck against the OEM to maximize potential economic damages for the airlines operating the A320neo.
The European airworthiness authority developed a pragmatic and logical response to the short-term issue that impacts a very small number of engines, which was not to pair them. European carriers know how to work with OEMs to solve issues. Lufthansa also operates the GTF, but we don’t hear whining in the press about problems, but instead see pragmatic sharing of information to help solve the problem, with the recognition they are an early adopter of the technology.
The Indian government and Indian airlines have taken things a step further. In looking back to the introduction of the 787, there were more technical problems with Air India than any other carrier. Now in looking at the GTF, the majority of issues also appear to be in India. This trend with two high-technology products might be an omen for OEMs to schedule deliveries to Indian airlines later rather than earlier in the life of their programs, hopefully after products are fully mature.