Budget carrier IndiGo on Wednesday cancelled as many as 42 domestic flights after aviation regulator DGCA grounded 11 A320neo aircrafts fitted with a certain series of Pratt & Whitney engines. India's largest airline by market share said the flights that have been cancelled on March 14 were bound for Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Jaipur, Srinagar, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Delhi, Dehradun, Amritsar, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, among others.
The Wadia Group-promoted low-cost carrier GoAir, which operates 230-odd flights daily, has also cancelled six flights on today due to the grounding of three of its A320neo planes. In an announcement on its website, GoAir said it would cancel 18 flights, including 8 daily ones, from March 15 to 24. These include flights from Cochin, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata.
The aviation sector in the country may remain affected with IndiGo and GoAir likely to face more disruptions in the coming weeks. Though the US-based aircraft engine maker had proposed a fix for the Pratt & Whitney's engine troubles but the two low-cost airlines may have to wait till June to get the replacements.
Launched in December 2010, Airbus A320neo (new engine option) is one of the fastest-selling aircraft in history. As compared to the previous narrow-body jets from Airbus, A320neo is more efficient - consuming 15 per cent less fuel, have lower CO2 emissions and significantly reduced noise footprint. These qualities attracted airlines across the world to introduce A320neos in their fleet, including 574 orders from GoAir and IndiGo.
IndiGo, which operates 1,000-odd flights per day, has had to replace Pratt & Whitney engines on its 32 A320 Neo aircraft at least 69 times in the period May 2016-November 2017. On an average, IndiGo flies four out of every 10 Indians. Of the total 11 A320neo aircrafts that have been grounded due to faulty engines, eight belong by IndiGo.
Commenting on the DGCA order, the newly-appointed Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said, "This is only for passenger safety and airlines have also responded positively. They would like to restore the flights as soon as possible by making alternative arrangements. But we cannot play with any issue related to safety and safety is paramount."Speaking to India Today following the DGCA order, MoS Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said, "All engines in the series that experienced trouble in India have been grounded. No aircraft with engines facing trouble will take off till issue completely resolved."
IndiGo has been struggling with the Pratt & Whitney engines in the newest A320 Neo aircraft ever since they were first inducted in February, 2016. Greg Hayes, chairman of Pratt & Whitney's parent UTC, responded to the issue in the post-earnings call in September, saying the company remains, "on track to certify a combustor upgrade to incorporate into new engines."
According to a Bloomberg report, the Pratt & Whitney proposed plan had called for the replacement of faulty engines by June requiring some planes to fly with one affected engine for almost three more months. Of the 11 newly grounded aircrafts, as many as five may be able to recommence flying by swapping engines between affected planes, it said.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) order came soon after an IndiGo flight encountered a mid-air engine failure forcing the Lucknow-bound flight to return to Ahmedabad, where it made an emergency landing this morning. The Airbus A320 Neo plane had 186 passengers on board. Last month, a GoAir A320neo experienced an in-flight shut down of the P&W engine after it took off from Leh.
Citing safety of aircraft operations, the DGCA said, A320neos fitted with PW1100 engines beyond ESN 450 have been grounded with immediate effect. "Both IndiGo and GoAir have been told not to refit these engines, which are spare with them in their inventory," the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.
Three other IndiGo A320neo planes have been on the ground since February following similar engine problems. On Monday, hundreds of passengers were stranded across the country as dozens of flights were cancelled by IndiGo and GoAir following the grounding of 11 planes.
An official statement from Pratt and Whitney said, "We are working closely with our customers to minimize disruption. The corrective action has been approved and we have already begun to deliver production engines with the upgraded configuration."
Commenting on the grounding of its A320neo fleet, IndiGo said, "We are in receipt of the communication from the DGCA and we shall promptly comply with the directions of the DGCA. Upon implementation of the directive, IndiGo shall have a total of nine A320 Neo aircraft on ground. The affected passengers would be accommodated on other flights on our network. Safety is our top priority."
Meanwhile, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said the Indian decision is a "unilateral" one with which EASA wasn't involved, the European agency said in an emailed statement, adding that a complete grounding "is not deemed necessary for the time being."
IndiGo, which operates about 1,000 flights daily, carries about 40 per cent of domestic flyers, while GoAir has a market share of around 10 per cent. The ongoing problems with the engines raise concerns regarding passenger safety in Indian skies.