Commercial Airlines Face Challenges with Airbus A320neo Engine Inspections

Commercial Airlines Face Challenges with Airbus A320neo Engine Inspections

Commercial airlines have encountered difficulties in balancing the surging travel demand this summer with labor shortages and supply chain constraints. While trying to meet the increased service requirements, airlines must also address a new issue related to inspections on a specific class of Airbus planes. These inspections are necessary due to potential “contamination” of metals in Pratt & Whitney engines used in these aircraft. The parent company of Pratt & Whitney, RTX (formerly known as Raytheon), announced on July 25 that a “significant portion” of the Airbus A320neo fleet would require accelerated removals and inspections within the next nine to twelve months. This development adds to the existing challenges faced by the airlines.

Officials from RTX emphasized that the inspection requirements were a result of quality control issues, rather than an immediate risk to flight safety. The problem was attributed to a “rare condition in powder metal used to manufacture certain engine parts.” Approximately 1,200 Pratt engines, produced between late 2015 and mid-2021, could be affected by this defect. Overall, the company has manufactured 3,000 of these engines. Airbus acknowledged the issue and stated that it would collaborate with Pratt & Whitney and their customers to implement the necessary inspection plans. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed that it was in contact with Pratt & Whitney and affected US operators to ensure appropriate action is taken.

Despite more than two weeks passing since the initial announcement by RTX, airlines are still seeking comprehensive details regarding the inspections. This lack of information creates uncertainties for the airlines, especially considering the challenging operating environment they currently face. The shortage of maintenance personnel further complicates the situation, potentially prolonging the duration of the grounding. RTX is expected to commence inspections on 200 jets by mid-September, but no specific timeline has been provided for completing the inspections. Pratt may explore the option of replacing the engines with newer versions, but supply chain issues have limited the company’s output. Spirit Airlines, a US carrier, has received a notification that up to 13 of its engines require inspection. Consequently, the airline will temporarily remove seven jets from service after Labor Day. Spirit Airlines is particularly affected by the inspections, as it has the highest number of Airbus planes subject to inspections and built during the specified period. The fleet of Spirit Airlines consists of approximately 80 Airbus A320neo planes.

Regional carrier Hawaiian Airlines disclosed that all 18 of its Airbus A320neo planes contain engines built within the concerned period. Hawaiian Airlines has already grappled with aircraft availability issues due to spare engine shortages. At its worst, the airline had to ground five out of the 18 jets. Prior to RTX’s announcement, Hawaiian Airlines had planned for a maximum of two aircraft to be temporarily out of service in the coming months, improving to one in the fourth quarter. However, the impact of the subsequent Pratt announcement has not yet been assessed, and Hawaiian Airlines may need to take schedule actions to mitigate potential aircraft shortages.

JetBlue, another airline with A320neo planes, has not provided a forecast of the impact stemming from the Pratt inspections. The company is currently evaluating the long-term consequences in collaboration with Pratt & Whitney. Media reports suggest that other carriers such as Germany’s Lufthansa, US carrier Delta, India’s Indigo, Air New Zealand, Wizz Air of Hungary, and Mexico’s Volaris could also be affected by these inspections.

Despite the challenges faced by commercial airlines, industry expert Michel Merluzeau does not expect Airbus to sever ties with Pratt as a supplier, stating that the issue appears to be isolated. It remains to be seen how airlines will navigate the ongoing labor shortages, supply chain constraints, and the additional burden of the required inspections. Clear and timely communication of inspection details from Pratt & Whitney will be crucial in enabling airlines to plan and adjust their operations effectively.


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