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Pratt & Whitney new engine cross 1 million hours; issues keep cropping

The geared turbofan engines, powering 350 planes in the world and 97 in India have crossed 1.5 million hours of service.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jan 18, 2019, 08.57 AM IST
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The country’s no. 1 carrier by market share, IndiGo, is the biggest user of the engines, closely followed by low-fare carrier GoAir.
Mumbai: Pratt & Whitney continues to grapple with fresh issues in its new aircraft engines — the lead market for which is India — even after crossing 1 million hours of service, typically considered a significant period for identifying and resolving problems with a new product.

The geared turbofan engines, powering 350 planes in the world and 97 in India have crossed 1.5 million hours of service. Senior executives at the engine maker had earlier told ET that the company was trying to identify and resolve issues with the product within the 1 million mark.

“I am not aware of any hard target. Normally, one million is considered a significant body of experience in terms of operating hours. Any initial issues are normally resolved within that time frame. But there is no magic number,” Mark Cryan, vice-president, customers (India, Middle East and Africa) for commercial engines at Pratt & Whitney, told ET in an interview.

“Reliability rates will improve to a level that people realise it’s business as usual and there will be no drama like in the past,” he said, without alluding to a specific future target.

The latest problem to crop up is that of a gearbox failure. The company is doing what it calls a “root cause analysis” of the issue before it identifies how many engines are currently impacted by it. That will be followed by a solution, a new set of engines equipped with the solution and a retrofitting of those engines into the existing impacted fleet and future aircraft deliveries.

The country’s no. 1 carrier by market share, IndiGo, is the biggest user of the engines, closely followed by low-fare carrier GoAir.

The problems started in February 2016 with a slow startup time in the engines, lagging production of fanblades and faults in the air system. That was resolved by April. Then the following year, the company continued to face issues such as a distress in the combustion chamber and an oil chips warning due to the wearing of a bearing. In February 2018, there was a fresh problem with a knife edge seal on the high pressure compressor in the aft hub.

Cryan said 95% of the engines with previous problems have been replaced. All of them will be replaced by June.

On December 10, smoke filled the cabin of an IndiGo flight due to one of the aforementioned engine issues, showing a full resolution to them hasn’t been reached yet. This was the first smoke incident with the engine. In December, a Port Blair-Kolkata flight returned to the origin destination after an engine failure. The company is also studying problems of excessive vibrations on its engines.

Cryan said the vibration has had “a fairly small impact” and it has affected only 2% of the global fleet.

Pratt & Whitney India head Palash Roy Chowdhury further added that it was impossible for passengers in a flight to feel those vibrations as they were “transient” and lasted “a millisecond”.

Regarding recent reports of passengers facing vibrations on board flights, he said it would be “turbulence” or “an air pocket”. Both Cryan and Roy Chowdhury insisted there were no safey issues with the engines.

To be sure, the engine has led to fuel savings for airlines. Cryan said airlines operating the engine have saved 250 million litres in fuel in the last two-and half years, which is to say they have burnt that much lesser fuel than they would have on another engine. Of that, Indian carriers have saved 185 million litres. Cryan added this has been the fastest rampup — zero to 350 planes in two-and-half years — of any engine program in the industry.

Also Read

Four more Indigo planes with Pratt & Whitney engines face glitches

IndiGo board to question Gangwal on talks with Pratt & Whitney

Government to issue new safety rules for A320 neos with Pratt & Whitney engines

Pratt & Whitney engine issue returns, IndiGo flight aborts takeoff

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