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IF Insights: As GoAir gets grounded, Pratt & Whitney faces credibility test over its engine issues

IFM_Go First
About 90% of Go First’s fleet of narrow-body jets came with PW engines

Jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney has been the latest talking point in the civil aviation industry right now.

The reason?

Indian aviation giant Go First went bankrupt due to the supply chain issues of the US company’s PW1000G engines that power its A320neo passenger jets.

The alleged supply chain issue eventually led to financial trouble for the airline owned by the Indian business conglomerate Wadia Group, as it had to cancel all its flights due to a cash crunch and go for voluntary insolvency resolution proceedings.

Now the airline has sued Pratt & Whitney in a US federal court seeking to enforce an arbitral award directing the supply of engines as contracted.

Knowing the crisis in detail

The National Company Law Tribunal has already admitted Go First’s voluntary plea to initiate the insolvency resolution process against the airline.

While the airline has suspended its ticket sales, close to 28 or more A320 jets of Go First are currently grounded now.

Go First has already approached the Delaware court after it won an arbitration order in Singapore against Pratt & Whitney. The engine maker was accused of failing to supply the PW1000G engines on time.

As per Go First, the PW1000G engines on its A320neo aircraft deteriorated faster than expected and prematurely stopped working. The airline reportedly changed over 500 Pratt GTF engines between 2016 and February 2023, forcing planes out of service and leading to losses of USD 1.3 billion.

About 90% of Go First’s fleet of narrow-body jets came with PW engines. About 24 of the airline’s 55 planes got grounded recently due to delays in engine supply by the US company. Go First was operating 27% fewer flights in March 2023 than in the same period a year back.

PW’s contract with Go First had three main conditions. While the engine maker had to provide a spare engine within 48 hours of an aircraft getting grounded, the other clauses were the free repairing of the faulty engines as the products were under warranty and providing compensation to the airline for “productivity loss” due to grounded planes.

While PW stayed true to these clauses till March 2020, things changed after that.

According to Cirium’s data, the airline operated 2,084 flights a week in 2022 March. Since then, flight operations got downsized as planes started getting grounded.

Not only Go First, but even India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo, which also uses PW engines on its A320 planes, saw 34 of its aircraft getting grounded due to delays in PW engine supplies.

Go First received its first PW engine-powered A320 plane in 2016.

“PW engines started facing issues six-eight months after the first delivery,” as per a Business standard report.

PW continues to face the heat globally

Airbus’ narrow-body jets are facing a tough business prospect and Pratt & Whitney has somewhat taken the villain’s role in that.

Air Senegal cancelled its lease to receive Five Airbus A220 Aircraft earlier in 2023 owing to issues with PW engines. Air Tanzania cancelled flights in 2022 due to the same issue.

US-based low-cost airline airBaltic is reportedly adding a further wet-leased aircraft to its fleet for the 2023 summer season. The airline, which is known for having an all-A220 aircraft fleet, will have four Airbus A320s on lease from Avion Express, along with one Bombardier CRJ900 and A319 jets respectively. The airline also faced similar PW engine concerns (the ones powering their A220 jets) in February 2023 and said that its unit costs and profitability were being negatively affected.

In March 2023, Turkish Airlines revealed that the PW engines onboard its Airbus A320s were facing technical issues, along with long turnaround times for workshop visits.

A month prior, Spirit Airlines’ unit costs and profitability were reportedly affected negatively due to the reliability problems posed by Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofans (GTF) across the American ultra-low-cost carrier’s nearly 70-strong Airbus A320neo fleet.

In May 2023, the Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) grounded all Iraqi Airways’ Airbus A220s due to the same engine issue. Lufthansa Group member Swiss Air Lines wasn’t spared from the crisis either.

The nature of the problems in all these incidents is common-supply chain disruptions taking a toll on the engine servicing activities and powerplants having trouble operating in hot, humid and dusty conditions. As per FlightGlobal, Go First had replaced 510 PW1100G engines in recent years, and in April 2023 had 64 ‘defective’ engine incidents. Airspace Africa reported about how Air Tanzania’s A220 engines, which were designed for 5,260 landings, were getting replaced well before 1,000 landing cycles, due to design flaws.

For A220, the problem becomes even more serious, considering this particular narrow-body passenger jet only uses PW1500G geared turbofan engines, unlike A320NEO, which alternates between CFM International LEAP-1A power plants and the PW1500G ones.

Design flaw or supply chain crisis?

CEO of Martin Consulting, Mark D Martin, in an opinion piece to Indian media outlet Deccan Herald, commented, “Pratt & Whitney (PW) needs to get its act together with taking responsibility for the flaws in the PW1000G, 1100G, and 1524G Geared Turbo Fan (PW-GTF), repeal or withdraw the product from the market; or replace it with an improved option, or even better, a whole new clean sheet design engine.”

“The problems with the PW-GTF engines are real, catastrophic, compromise safety; and near to fatal triggering full-blown emergency landings, teeth-rattling vibration, corrosion, separation of fan blades during flight and premature removal an engine for maintenance at one-fourth of PW’s own defined removal time; in addition to metal shavings showing up in the engine oil, cracked metal casings and fractured metal alloys,” he commented further.

PW’s supply chain has its presence in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, Mexico, and Israel, where the various components of the company’s aero engines get produced. We all know the supply chain disruptions the world faced due to COVID-induced lockdowns between 2020-22. Although the lockdowns have become a thing of the past, expect things to take a few more months to get normalised in the aviation sector, especially when it comes to the supply chain part.

The road ahead

In May 2023, Airbus disclosed its full-year financial results for 2022. The stats show that 2022 was a strong and profitable one for the planemaker. It delivered a total of 661 commercial aircraft, against an initial target of 700. For 2023, Airbus is targeting a delivery figure of 720 planes, subject to the normalcy in factors including “the supply chain”.

However, the European planemaker also noted the PW’s engine woes. On February 2018, Airbus even decided to stop accepting PW1100G engines equipping its A320neo family aircraft, due to a higher-than-normal number of inflight shutdowns and aborted take-offs.

Five years after, PW is facing another credibility test. More than the technical issues with the powerplants, the attitude shown by the American engine maker to the Go First, despite the 2021 Singapore verdict instructing it to provide “at least 10 serviceable spare leased engines by 27 April 2023” to the Indian carrier, has no doubt dampened the company’s image.

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