For all the challenges within its own production system and the wider supply chain, it is engines that are producing the biggest headaches for Airbus.

Aside from the ongoing troubles with the Europrop International TP400-D6 on the A400M, the A320neo’s powerplant woes show no sign of abating.

A stuttering ramp-up driven by parts shortages and early reliability issues on the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine have now given way to what could be a fresh test for the geared turbofan.

That the Indian authorities have begun boroscope inspections on the country’s in-service fleet of PW1100Gs suggests all is not well with the programme.

PW1100G A320 - Airbus


Although P&W says it is working to minimise disruption to operators, the worry must be that the problem is not confined to one airline.

Initial investigations suggest that overheating bearings were the cause of an apparent in-flight fire and engine shutdown, but it is too early to say whether it was a maintenance or manufacturing lapse.

If the issue does become more widespread, then questions will be asked, particularly in Toulouse, about the ability of P&W to deliver a promised 350-400 geared turbofan engines this year.

It would not take much, after all, to disrupt Airbus’s ambitious ramp-up targets for Neo output (and lest we forget, Bombardier too is relying on P&W engines).

There will be several operators with orders for PW1100G-powered Neos who are watching events unfold with interest, and pondering a switch to the rival CFM International Leap-1A powerplants.

Little wonder then that Airbus group chief executive Tom Enders has warned that P&W must “make a huge effort to further improve”.

Over at CFM there must be a certain degree of smugness at the misfortunes befalling its rival. It appears that its relatively low-risk approach on the Leap – in terms of both the engine’s design and its dual-sourced supply chain – is paying dividends, at least for now.

But while the Leap engine is making untroubled progress, the real ramp-up has yet to fully kick in. Safran, one half of CFM, has already acknowledged that it is struggling to stay on top of the Leap output rise.

Those rate increases – to about 60 norrowbody aircraft per month for both Airbus and Boeing – will put enormous pressure on the entire supply chain and will continue to reveal new cracks – figuratively speaking – across the entire industry.

Source: Flight International