Airbus engine flaws halt A320neo deliveries
Shares in Airbus fell on February 12, 2018, after sources reported that the European plane maker stopped delivering its A320neo jets powered by Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF) engines and halted pre-delivery test flights after the latest in a series of engine hiccups.
Trouble for Airbus stocks
Airbus shares, which hit a record high of €94 in January, 2018, were down by 1.1 percent at €82.61 in early session trading on February 12, 2018, making the stock the worst performer on France’s benchmark CAC-40 index, Reuters reports.
This comes after news emerged on February 10, 2018, that Airbus stopped delivering A320neo jets powered by Pratt & Whitney GTF engines and halted pre-delivery test flights after a series of problems with the PW1100G engines.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) on February 9, 2018, for Airbus A320 and A321 (the A320-271N, A321-271N, A321-272N) aircraft indicating that several occurrences of engine in-flight shut-down (IFSD) and rejected take-off (RTO) have been reported on these Airbus A320neo-family planes.
The statement reads: “While investigation is ongoing to determine the root cause, preliminary findings indicate that the affected engines… are more susceptible to IFSD. This condition, if not corrected, could lead to dual engine IFSD.”
The directive also states that to address this potential risk, Airbus issued an alert operations transmission (AOT) to operators of the affected engines providing instructions to “de-pair” those engines and discontinue extended range two-engine planes operations (ETOPS) for aircraft fitted with affected engines.
EASA’s safety directions ban operators with planes that use two affected engines from flying them within three flight cycles. Aircraft with one affected engine are restricted from certain long-range flights.
Aircraft using alternative engines from CFM International, the joint venture between GE Aviation, a division of General Electric of the U.S., and Safran Aircraft Engines, a division of Safran of France, are not affected, Reuters explains.
Implications for Airbus and Pratt & Whitney
Airbus claims to be “assessing the situation” together with Pratt & Whitney. “Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer, is investigating the root cause of this new finding with the full support of Airbus,” is noted in a statement by the French manufacturer. “The efforts of both companies are directed to support customers and operators to minimize any disruption”.
Likewise, Pratt & Whitney claims it is “in close contact” with customers to address the knife edge seal in the High Pressure Compressor (HPC) aft hub problem on the PW1100G-JM engine. The company highlights that 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,” is noted in a statement by the engine maker.
So far, Airbus has reportedly grounded 11 of the 113 Pratt & Whitney-powered A320neo-family jets currently in service, with 43 in-service engines affected in total, all from the most recent suspect batch.
As a result, India’s largest carrier IndiGo, world’s biggest customer for Airbus’s A320neo jets, was forced to withdraw three affected planes from service and cancel some flights on February 10, 2018, following EASA’s instructions, Hartford Courant reports.
The setback comes just after Airbus announced it was overcoming a two-year long series of problems on the fuel-saving engines developed by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies, one of two engine suppliers for the best-selling A320neo-family aircraft.
The issue is the latest in a series of problems that have beset Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G engines. Both Airbus and Bombardier have blamed the company for A320neo-family and CSeries aircraft delivery delays as the engine provider struggled to speed up production with simultaneously introduced fixes addressing reliability and durability shortfalls, ATW writes.
According to Pratt & Whitney, the latest issues do not involve engines for the Embraer E2 family and the Bombardier CSeries, but are limited to the Airbus A320neo-family planes.
Nevertheless, if the engine supplier does not find a solution quickly, the issue could affect the delivery schedule of future A320neo aircraft. A prolonged delay of deliveries could also have a financial impact for both the European plane maker and for leasing companies.
“It is too early to determine financial implications, but the fact that it impacts a limited population of engines is a potentially mitigating factor,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Matthew McConnell told Reuters.
“Still, this will put GTF execution issues back in the spotlight after a smooth few months when news flow was mostly focused on solid orders and ramping production,” McConnell added.
Recent EASA safety bulletins
On December 21, 2017, the EASA issued an AD for operators of Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, instructing airlines that operate an aircraft with two of the engines to “de-pair” or “remove” them to reduce the risk of a double inflight shutdown (IFSD). The Trent 1000 is installed primarily on the Boeing 787.
On January 16, 2018, the EASA issued another AD for Safran Helicopter Arrius 2F engines, citing electrical magnetic plug “inspection” or “replacement” in the engine oil system to reduce the risk of a inflight shutdown (IFSD). The engines are known to be installed primarily on Airbus EC120 B helicopters.
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