Engine failures worsen Airbus A320neo ordeal


Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 10

Airbus SE’s most important aircraft just cannot shake its teething problems.

The European manufacturer has been forced to suspend some deliveries of its A320neo jet following another issue with the engines supplied by Pratt & Whitney.

IndiGo, the Indian low-cost airline that is the plane’s biggest customer, on Sunday disclosed three in-flight shutdowns and said that pilots have had to turn back before taking off in three other instances — an alarming new problem for a Pratt power plant that has been hobbled by glitches from the start.

Replacing the engines is the “best possible precautionary measure” to avoid further mishaps, IndiGo spokesman Ajay Jasra said.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the A320 for Airbus. It put the European planemaker on the map three decades ago, allowing the company to go from a speck in Boeing Co’s rear-view mirror to powerful equal in what has become a de facto duopoly in the global civil-aircraft market.

Airbus churns out more than 50 of the aircraft each month and the promise of the neo with its more fuel-efficient engines turned the model into the fastest seller in commercial aviation history, forcing Boeing to respond with a refreshed 737.

Airbus has traditionally offered two engine options on the A320, and the company maintained that approach on the neo. Customers can choose between the Pratt & Whitney model and a type built by the CFM joint venture between General Electric Co and France’s Safran SA.

For Pratt, the introduction of the two-year-old neo was a chance to solidify its position in the lucrative market for single-aisle planes, which form the backbone of most global airline fleets.

Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corp, invested US$10 billion to develop the geared turbofan, now its most important product.

The latest issue undermines its efforts to move past earlier snags, including a cooling problem that marred its commercial introduction in early 2016, and subsequent durability issues and delivery delays.

Pratt on Friday said that the problem was isolated to “a limited subpopulation” of the engines and had to do with a “knife edge” compressor seal.

As many as 11 of the 113 Pratt-powered A320neos delivered by Airbus have been grounded, according to people familiar with the matter, with 43 in-service engines affected in total.

All are from the most recent batches to come off the engine maker’s production line.

Shares of parent United Technologies fell 1.9 percent on Friday, the biggest slide of any member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, while Airbus dropped 2.3 percent earlier in Paris.

If the latest problem leads to penalty payments to IndiGo and other customers, it would not be the first time Pratt was on the hook financially.

While Pratt works on a fix, IndiGo said it will take delivery of older, less efficient A320ceos to fuel its growth.