One-third of Swiss’ Airbus A220 fleet is currently grounded amid supply-side challenges that will be a “major driver” of the industry in the coming years, according to Lufthansa Group chief executive Carsten Spohr.

Speaking as the group outlined its first-quarter 2023 performance on 3 May, Spohr reiterated his belief that while the global airline industry has few concerns about passenger demand levels, it is supply that will shape its emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic, stating: “I’m around 30 years in this industry – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Alongside the Swiss A220 woes – caused by problems with their PW1500G engines – issues with Pratt & Whitney powerplants have also grounded three “brand-new airplanes” at Lufthansa mainline, says Spohr, referring to PW1100G-equipped A320neo-family jets, amid a wider shortage of “basic parts” as supply chains struggle to recover from the effects of the pandemic downturn. A220s have proven particularly vulnerable to a lack of spare engines during MRO work, airlines chiefs have previously reported.

Amid the groundings, Swiss is currently wet-leasing six A220-300s from Air Baltic, according to Cirium fleets data, to support its 30 examples of the type. The latter has spare A220 capacity, despite suffering its own groundings, due to the demand impact of the war in Ukraine in particular. 

Swiss Airbus A220 with SAS aircraft in background

Source: Robert Buchel/Shutterstock

The issues are not unique to the Pratt & Whitney or MRO sector, however, in a trend that creates challenges across the global industry, the Lufthansa chief says. Deliveries of new aircraft, for example, are also being delayed. 

“Way down in the supply chains there are elements missing and companies need to rebuild their production facilities,” Spohr states, adding that having spoken to OEMs including Airbus and Boeing, he expects the situation to “last some time”.

Exacerbating issues with industry supply are labour shortages, Spohr notes, “not that much in Lufthansa but also in our suppliers, airports, ground-services”.

He further cites the shortage of pilots in the USA, saying he concurs with comments made by United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby, who has argued that the post-Covid operating environment has changed “profoundly”.

Both airlines chiefs suggest airline capacity will be restricted by supply-side dynamics for years to come: “This industry… has a supply problem,” Spohr says.

Regarding challenges with its engines, Pratt & Whitney recently told FlightGlobal it ”expects industry-wide supply chain pressures to ease later this year, which will support increased output of new and overhauled engines.

“In the interim, we are providing direct logistical support to our suppliers as well as developing solutions to improve engine durability.”