The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) yesterday banned IndiGo and GoAir from operating their A320neo planes to Port Blair and any overseas route in the wake of problems with their Pratt & Whitney engines.
The latest incident involving a P&W engine occurred on January 3 on an IndiGo Chennai-Kolkata flight. The aircraft stalled mid-air with a loud bang, reportedly followed by sparks and smoke, forcing the A320neo to return to Chennai under emergency conditions.
While the A320neos have reportedly been facing engine problems since their introduction in India in March 2016, the safety concerns over the P&W engines have increased recently due to a spurt in the number of reported snags on aircraft fitted with them. It is the fleet fitted with PW1100 engines from serial number 450 and beyond that have seen repetitive defects.
Due to the above issues, the aviation regulator has issued directions with respect to flying A320neos fitted with P&W engines by the two budget carriers, which reportedly boast around 100 of these planes collectively. "The DGCA has barred the airlines from operating the planes to Port Blair since the nearest landing place in case of any emergency is more than one hour away," an official told PTI.
A senior regulatory official told The Times of India that this decision was also taken with the commercial angle in mind. "When a Neo with faulty Pratt engine gets stuck in Port Blair, it takes longer for the airline to fly in man and material there to repair or replace the same. Examination of the faulty PW engine also takes longer there. And Port Blair is a small airport that has one less aircraft parking bay as long as the Neo remains grounded there, limiting its capacity," said the source.
The official added that the flying restrictions also apply to "any overseas route where an alternate landing place is over an hour away at any point in its journey over the ocean".
Furthermore, after a meeting between P&W officials, the Indian operators and Ministry of Civil Aviation officials last week to review the performance of A320neos with P&W 1100 series engines, the DGCA has issued fresh directives in addition to the existing measures to address the engine troubles. The two Indian carriers have been directed to carry out certain inspections of the P&W engines, at specified timelines in addition to the flight restrictions.
The watchdog has also asked the airlines to create awareness among cabin and cockpit crew about "odour/ burning smell/ smoke (even if slightest) during approach phase and positive reporting to cockpit crew for necessary action". If any odour or smoke is observed in air-conditioning pack air, the cockpit crew need to identify the source of odour by isolating packs one at a time. Certain set of components used in aircraft engines are referred to as packs. Moreover, all such cases have to be recorded for necessary investigation, the DGCA clarified.
In light of the above, IndiGo's plans to fly its P&W engine powered A320neos on long-haul international sectors, including Europe, will be put on ice, yet again.
(Edited by Sushmita Choudhury Agarwal; with PTI inputs)