Unless A320neo engines are fixed, the planes may be banned from flying

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New Delhi: Frequent snags in Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines powering Airbus SE’s A320neo planes of IndiGo and GoAir may not have easy and immediate fixes, underscoring the need for stringent measures to address the issue that has stoked concerns about passenger safety, experts said.

IndiGo, India’s largest airline, and rival GoAir recently won a reprieve when the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) extended a 31 January deadline for modification of P&W engines installed on their A320neo planes to May-end. But a slew of incidents, the latest being the return of an A320neo aircraft on Thursday following a loud noise during a flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad, highlights the risks passengers would have to endure unless the engines are fixed or a blanket ban imposed by the regulator on flying A320neo planes with P&W engines.

Until modifications are made to the faulty P&W engines, IndiGo and GoAir planes have been permitted to fly on the condition that at least one of the two engines on the A320neo aircraft has been modified. But flying an aircraft even with such precautionary steps may not be an adequate protection.

“It is assumed that one engine will have a malfunction, but what if by sheer coincidence the remaining one also develops a fault, the risk is very high,” said Amit Singh, an air operations and safety expert, and a captain at Gulf Air.

“It is a known defect and cannot be treated as a regular fault. When will DGCA say enough is enough based on a scientific evaluation?” said Singh, alleging that the regulator is “commercially driven and (therefore) does not want to ground the aircraft”.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a fresh warning in December about a potential dual-engine failure on the A320neo family of planes fitted with P&W engines. In an airworthiness report issued in December, EASA said low-pressure turbine blades on some P&W engines on A320neo planes had low damage tolerance and could immediately “fracture”, or develop cracks on impact.

“This condition, if not corrected, could lead to dual engine in-flight shutdown, possibly resulting in reduced control of the aeroplane,” the aviation regulator said and asked airlines to replace at least one, if not both P&W engines, by March-end.

To be sure, DGCA told IndiGo in Novemberthat its efforts to modify the glitch-prone older P&W engines on the A320neo planes were not satisfactory. The regulator intervened after a series of technical snags last year involving P&W engine-powered A320neo planes operated by IndiGo. DGCA has threatened to ground all the affected planes if IndiGo and GoAir are not unable to modify the affected P&W engines by the extended 31 May deadline.

IndiGo, which controls around half of the domestic air passenger travel market, will have to complete procurement of as many as 135 engines and replace all its older engines by the deadline, according to plans submitted to DGCA, Airbus and P&W.