Pratt & Witney A320neo engines under investigation

Yet another engine problem looks set to upset Airbus and its customers, as Pratt & Witney face possible FAA investigation over excessive vibrations being reported on A320neo’s.

The company, owned by United Technologies, has been under continuous pressure to repair and solve an endless stream of issues relating to the Neo program.

GE have not been without engine issues and Rolls Royce are involved in an unprecedented technical replacement programme of the Trent-1000 fitted to the 787.

While demand for engines is high as more and more aircraft are produced – Boeing and Airbus are set to need 240 just to supply A320 and 737 series every month, there is a real concern that a lack of development time is too blame.

The time to develop, test and operate a new engine from conception to application on the first aircraft has been cut in half. It’s now accepted practice – and has become common through most industries – to reach what is known as a ‘commercially acceptable’ point of acceptance.

This is where the risk of problems is considered low enough to avoid heavy financial penalties when something goes wrong.

Clearly Rolls Royce have misjudged that one and so have P&W. GE seem to have escaped a major issue so far but rather by fluke than design. In other words they got lucky.

The question is how long before these twin engines aircraft have simultaneous fatal or near-fatal failures that endanger or cause the death of passengers and crew?

Airframe manufacturing demands more from engine suppliers, product life spans are becoming shorter as airlines demand more fuel efficiency and ongoing improvements are an expected feature.

The problem is that engine producers just don’t have time to iron out all the faults before being forced into full production. It’s the airlines and the paying customers who are in effect, taking on the risk of failure.

It’s made worse by the process of self-certification and especially in the US, a rotating door of manufacturing staff who end up working at the FAA certifying their former employers products, an issue that’s come up in Congress but been largely ignored as the practice is endemic.

My concern is that we are inevitably going to see a major aviation disaster caused by engine failures. The more problems there are, and they are more frequent, the more likely with ever growing numbers of aircraft, a major event is to happen. Any probability expert will tell you it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’.

It’s long overdue that regulators step in and demand better standards and requirements – wether industry likes it or not, and if it costs them money they’ll fight it all the way.

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