- Possible modification would shorten fan blades, analysts say
- Qatar Air, Indigo have had handover of revamped jet put back
An engine supplier for Airbus Group SE’s revamped A320neo jetliner, due for its first delivery this month, rebutted a report by JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts that the power plants may not meet performance benchmarks because of possible modifications.
“Our engines are currently meeting the fuel-efficiency commitments we have made to our customers, they will upon entry into service and thereafter,” said Jay DeFrank, a spokesman for United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney division.
The company’s response underscored the importance of fuel-economy metrics in Pratt’s competition with General Electric Co. to power narrow-body jets, the biggest and most lucrative segment of the global airline fleet. Pratt has promised a 15 percent fuel savings on its so-called geared-turbofan engine, whose development has required an investment of about $10 billion.
United Technologies said Dec. 10 that uneven cooling in the engine may cause bowing and result in some parts rubbing together. Running air through the unit for three minutes would eliminate the issue, according to Chief Executive Officer Greg Hayes, who said software and engineering fixes were being developed.
JPMorgan analysts including David Perry and Seth Seifman said changing the software to prolong cooling times automatically may cost an airline its takeoff slot at airports where departure times are crucial, while shortening engineering modifications such as shortening the compressor blades could erode the promised savings in fuel use, “although the margin of shortfall might be modest.”
“Both solutions have an economic cost,” the JPMorgan analysts said in a note that cited “industry contacts.”
While Pratt’s setbacks may not have a major impact on deliveries, airlines could seek compensation if certain targets aren’t met, and the company may face a cost to fix the glitch, the analysts said. It’s not clear whether the cause relates to production quality or a more serious design flaw, they said.
More-efficient engines are a central selling point for the neo, the updated version of Airbus’s top-selling A320 family. The neo is Airbus’s entry in the single-aisle segment with Boeing Co.’s new Max, the overhauled narrow-body that also features new engines.
Airbus has said it’s in discussions with the first A320neo customers on their “delivery milestones,” and that the plane has been certified by both the European Aviation Safety Agency and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Spokesman Justin Dubon said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on any specific engine issues.
Hayes said in his Dec. 10 comments that a new process for the engine planned for February will put “some additional robustness into the bearing housing,” together with some other changes.
“You hope you’ve covered all the bases in the test phase,” said Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive who is now president of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. “But sometimes in seeking ultimate performance you get caught out by one or more of the variables. Pretty much every engine has had issues.”
Pratt’s model, which incorporates a gear to achieve significant reductions in fuel burn, emissions and noise, competes with an engine from a GE-Safran SA venture to power the neo. Pratt’s PW1100G has a 28 percent market share on ordered A320neos, with the rival Leap on 31 percent and the rest of operators undecided, JPMorgan said.
Qatar Airways, long slated to be the first A320neo customer, has already balked at taking the first jet amid concern that getting engines to the right temperature will have an effect on its timetable, while India’s Indigo, due to be the third recipient, said this week that Airbus had warned it of a delay in handovers related to unspecified “industrial reasons.”
Deutsche Lufthansa AG, now scheduled to get the first A320neo, said Tuesday it expects to receive a plane this month -- allowing Airbus to meet its delivery target -- but that the handover won’t be announced because of the holiday season. The media will be notified only once a second aircraft arrives early in the new year, spokesman Thomas Jachnow said.