IndiGo, GoAir's A320Neos now don't need airports nearby for emergency landing

The DGCA provided this relief as there have not been any perceptible problems with the modified Pratt and Whitney engines

IndiGo, GoAir's A320Neos now don't need airports nearby for emergency landing
An IndiGo A320Neo at the Guwahati airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/SlowPhoton

IndiGo and GoAir recently received a major relief from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), with their Airbus A320Neo and A321Neo planes powered by Pratt and Whitney engines being allowed to fly on longer international routes, where a diversion airport is more than an hour away from any point on the route. 

"Till date, we have not heard of any problem with PW modified engines in any part of the world and therefore the time seems right for taking this call (extending the 'extended diversion time operations” or EDTO’) from 60 to 90 minutes," a senior DGCA official said, according to a Times of India report. 

The regulator was reportedly also planning to allow these planes and the CFM-powered A320Neos of IndiGo and Vistara to fly to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. 

Airbus delivered its 1,000th A320Neo family aircraft – an A321Neo to IndiGo in October 2019. Image courtesy: Airbus

The A320Neo aircraft using PW engines had become major talking points over the past few years following repeated on-ground and mid-air snags. Four snags were witnessed in A320Neo planes operated by IndiGo in a week in October 2019. Neo or New Engine Option entered the Indian market in 2016 and since then has been beset with problems. IndiGo acknowledged in a report on January 17, 2020, that there were issues with low-pressure turbine (LPT) stage three of the PW engines.

Also read: IndiGo gets rid of A320 Neo ghost, GoAir planes continue to be scary

The DGCA had directed IndiGo and GoAir not to fly any aircraft without both Neo engines modified and served them with repeated deadlines to get the unmodified Neo engines changed. However, although IndiGo was able to effect full replacement of the faulty Neo engines on its 134 A320/21 aircraft before the August 31, 2020 deadline, smaller peer GoAir missed the deadline and till September 13, 2020, had not replaced around 20 unmodified PW engines on its A320Neo planes. 

In August last year, the regulator ordered IndiGo and GoAir to not accept engines that lack a modified version of the 1100-series turbines. 

In case an engine goes bust mid-air, twin-engine jets can still safely land on one engine at the nearest airport, and that is what the pilots of the stricken A320Neo planes have been doing. However, the distance of a stricken aircraft from an airport along the route is clearly specified by the DGCA. The maximum allowed time between a troubled aircraft and an airport on the way is determined on the basis of EDTO requirements. 

Considering the snag-prone earlier-version PW engines of the A320/21 planes, the DGCA had specified that an airport should not take more than 60 minutes to reach from any point on the route of these planes. However, with the unmodified PW engines being replaced, IndiGo had requested the regulator in October 2020 to allow an EDTO of 90 minutes. This EDTO extension was needed to operate the A320/21Neos on international routes like Kerala to the Gulf, for example. In the absence of such permission, airlines had to operate the older and less fuel-efficient A320CEOs (Current Engine Option). 

A Pratt and Whitney PurePower PW1100G-JM engine on an A320Neo. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Don-vip

Finally, the EDTO was increased from 60 to 90 minutes after the DGCA was satisfied with the validation flight flown by IndiGo. 

Neo planes of IndiGo and GoAir had also been barred from flying to Port Blair to avoid parking stands at this small airport being occupied by stricken aircraft that are forced to land and be grounded there. Also, the nearest landing place in case of an emergency is more than an hour's flight away. 

Also read -- 2 air incidents in a single day: IndiGo, Vistara planes diverted after trouble in the sky

The A320 Neo family was envisaged to offer up to 20% savings in fuel burn per seat by 2020, two tonnes of additional payload, 500 nautical miles of more range, lower operating costs, nearly 50% reduction in engine noise and a cut in nitrogen oxide emissions to 50% below the current industry standard. IndiGo placed a mega $20 billion order with CFM in June 2019, as an alternative to the troublesome PW engines, according to reports. 

IndiGo is the biggest customer of A320Neo planes in the world. According to a report, IndiGo's order of 300 A320Neo family aircraft in October 2019 made it one of Airbus's largest aircraft orders ever from a single airline. This order was a mix of the standard A320Neo, the stretched A321Neo and the long-range A321XLR. With this, the number of narrow-body Airbus A320Neo planes that IndiGo ordered went up to 730.  

In September 2020, however, pilots of a GoAir A320Neo aircraft en route from Hyderabad to Ahmedabad had to shut down one of its engines mid-air, causing the plane to land on one good engine, Bloomberg reported. What is particularly disconcerting is the fact that both the engines' turbines had already been modified after repeated glitches. This raised questions over the effectiveness of the PW engine modifications and cast doubt on the safety of the A320Neo planes even after the fixes.

(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/SlowPhoton)