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Plane truths: IndiGo tells A320neo pilots to fly low at 30,000 ft

IndiGo has asked its pilots to fly snag-hit A320neo planes at a lower altitude, 30,000 ft, to reduce strain on engines even though it will mean higher fuel burn.

business Updated: Mar 24, 2017 08:03 IST
Tarun Shukla
IndiGo has so far inducted 17 A320neo planes in its 129-plane fleet.
IndiGo has so far inducted 17 A320neo planes in its 129-plane fleet.(Reuters File Photo)

InterGlobe Aviation Ltd-run IndiGo and Go Airlines (India) Ltd run GoAir, among the first to fly the new Airbus A320neo, have been forced to find ways to deal with vexing technical snags with the Pratt & Whitney engines that power the aircraft.

IndiGo has asked its pilots to fly snag-hit A320neo planes at a lower altitude, 30,000 ft, and not the usual 36,000 ft to reduce strain on engines even though it will mean higher fuel burn. GoAir CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer said in an interview on Thursday that Pratt & Whitney “will support us properly with spare engines and other support needs to be there so we can overcome the initial phase and don’t have any flight disruptions.”

A Pratt & Whitney spokesman said it has no comment on the subject.

Earlier this month the engine maker said there were no safety issues involved with the planes and replacement engines were being sent to India on cargo jets when required.

Still, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked IndiGo and GoAir to increase surveillance of these planes, besides specifying other restrictions on when and where to fly them.

In January, an IndiGo flight had a so-called rejected takeoff at Mumbai. A GoAir flight from Delhi had to return to the airport after an engine fire 15 minutes into the flight. Last month, a GoAir flight had to effect an emergency landing and an IndiGo flight had to fly minus passengers to Delhi from Baroda.

Spokespersons for GoAir and IndiGo declined to comment for this story.

Analysts say the two airlines are facing teething troubles that early buyers of new aircraft do. They point to Air India’s troubles with Boeing’s Dreamliner.

Usually, such problems are sorted out within the first two years of a new aircraft being launched.

In this case too, “technical issues will be sorted out in one-and-a-half years,” Prock-Schauer said.

IndiGo, which was the launch customer for the Airbus A320neo, has about 413 planes on order; it has so far inducted 17 in its 129-plane fleet. GoAir flies less than half-a-dozen of them and has about 140 on order. The planes, powered by fuel-efficient engines, are key to both airlines’ low cost model.

On 21 March, Ashim Mittra, vice president (flight operations), IndiGo said in a note to pilots that Pratt & Whitney had proposed limiting the altitude of flying to 30,000 feet for A320neo planes to avoid a possible glitch in the engine lubrication system and that effective 22 March, IndiGo had decided to adopt the recommendation. Mint has seen a copy of the note.

Since flying at lower altitudes consumes more fuel, the note asked pilots to fuel up accordingly.

Aviation analyst Mohan Ranganathan and former director general of civil aAviation Kanu Gohain said it was rare for an airline to place such altitude restrictions.

Publicly known technical snags in the Neos include erroneous warnings to the pilot, longer startup times, issues with the combustor chamber lining, oil seal failures, and so-called oil chip detected warnings.

“Pratt and Whitney have constantly been analysing other teething problems that have emerged during operations,” Mittra said in his note to pilots.

Earlier this month, top Pratt & Whitney executives met DGCA officials to update them on the engine issues.

Former DGCA chief Gohain said more inspections would help.

“Whenever there are repeated engine issues you increase the frequency of inspections so that you can detect the internal distress of the engine earlier before it fails,” Gohain said.