The global aviation industry continues to suffer disruption due to engine manufacturing issues — resulting in grounded jets, delayed deliveries, and a shaky entry-into-service for a some new aircraft. Attempting to overcome the disruption has been a tiring process for airline executives working towards healthy bottom-line financials, especially for airline operators of Pratt & Whitney powerplants — the now infamously problematic geared-turbofan engine that powers some of the world’s Airbus A320neo, and Airbus A220 family aircraft at airlines including Lufthansa, and Air Baltic.
In fact, supply chain issues on single-aisle production at Airbus, combined with geared-turbofan engine delays have left many NEO (new engine option) airline operators without aircraft. Airlines continue to express dismay with Airbus after being forced to reduce flights from future schedules amid the absence of new aircraft.
In an exclusive interview with Aviation Analyst in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Air Astana President and CEO Peter Foster explained: “We’ve had a bad experience because we’ve had so many aircraft changes. It’s been an extreme problem for us. It’s caused us huge amounts of disruption, it’s delayed our entire development plan. Of course, we’re very disappointed.”
Foster added “We continue to discuss compensation with both Pratt and Whitney, and Airbus. The disruption we have faced goes way beyond as to what we would regard as ‘teething problems’ in the industry”
But it’s not only ‘suffering the delay of aircraft deliveries’ that airlines are having to endure. Once delivered, the entry-into-service, the reliability and performance levels of some engines types have created an operational nightmare for the airline. In the short time that Air Astana has operated A320neo jets, the Kazakh carrier has already undertaken 23 engine changes on all of its existing A320neo fleets, compromising of 3 A320neo, and 3 A321neo jets, excluding the recently delivered A321LR.
There have also been four occasions where the airlines’ A320neo jets have had to divert back to the departure airport due to engine trouble, meaning Air Astana, like several other carriers in Europe, Asia and the U.S, know only too well how problematic Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engine can be.
In the Middle East, Qatar Airways’ first A321neo should have been delivered in early 2020 — but Aviation Analyst can exclusively reveal that the Qatari airline will accept a delayed delivery timetable of a reduced amount of A321neo jets next year. GCEO of the airline, H.E. Akbar Al Baker explained “We have agreed on a delayed timeline with Airbus. They’ve rescheduled the deliveries meaning we will receive only four next year. We were supposed to get a higher number in 2020, and instead, we’ll get a reduced amount.”
Al Baker confirmed the first A321neo delivery to the airline is now pencilled in for September 2020.
It’s not just single-aisle production that is causing a worldwide hold-up. Sitting down with Aviation Analyst in Malaysia, Al Baker slammed A350 XWB engine supplier Rolls-Royce over poor performance. He said “We are very disappointed in Rolls-Royce. They are failing — failing to meet performance, failing to meet the timeline, failing to give us the comfort we require on the reliability of their engines, and so we are very disappointed with Rolls Royce. This is in specific reference to the A350″
Al Baker added “The performance of the engines in service is not what we expected. The turnaround of the overhauls of our engines is not happening”
While Al Baker agreed with me that the dispatch reliability for the A350 remains high, “it’s only ever brought down by part-supply chain, and part-Rolls-Royce” Al Baker explained.
Last October, at a meeting at Air Baltic’s HQ in Riga, Martin Sedlacky Chief Operations Officer of Air Baltic exclusively confirmed to Aviation Analyst that the Latvian carrier had changed 50 Pratt & Whitney engines for the A220 jets in less than two years between December 2016 and October 2018 — an unprecedented number of changes, given the very small fleet size of Air Baltic’s A220s at the time.
“In the beginning, there was a timeline for the engine disruption. My chief technical was looking at it and laughing, saying there’s no way Pratt & Whitney could fix it in this time” Sedlacky said.
“Either they bring new engines directly from the production facility, or we take it from MRO, and then it takes one day to change an engine” he added.
Now late-2019, airlines are still ‘at war’ with engine manufacturers.
Last week, SWISS briefly grounded its entire fleet of A220 aircraft following a “serious” engine problem that forced a London-Geneva service to land in Paris. The carrier, the world’s biggest operator of the narrow-body aircraft, said it cancelled around 100 flights to carry out inspections of the Pratt & Whitney engines.
“Pratt & Whitney is working in with Airbus, the regulatory authorities and our airline customers to incorporate upgrades improving the reliability of the accessory gearbox in the PW1100G-JM fleet. The accessory gearbox is external to the engine and drives accessories such as pumps and generators,” a Pratt and Whitney’s spokesperson in a statement, following the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal of a new airworthiness directive (AD) for Pratt & Whitney (PW) 1100G family of turbofan engines after several instances of in-flight shutdown.
While Pratt & Whitney have suffered the most backlash from airlines, they’re not alone. Back in July, Boeing decided to delayed the 777X’s first flight from 2019 to 2020, citing GE9X engine issues. Boeing aims to achieve 777X certification and to deliver the first aircraft before the end of 2020 but has already conceded the timeline could slip.