Airbus Drops P&W Engines for A321Neo First Flight, Uses CFM

  • Pratt turbine has suffered glitches related to cooling
  • Issue has already led Qatar Air to delay delivery by months

Airbus Group SE has decided not to use Pratt & Whitney engines that have suffered engineering glitches for the first test flight of its A321neo, the largest and most widely-ordered variant of the European company’s new single-aisle jet, and will instead employ rival turbines from CFM International.

Airbus said it still aims to deliver the first A321neos powered by Pratt by the end of 2016, with CFM-equipped aircraft being handed over in early 2017. Spokesman Stefan Schaffrathsaid many tests are independent of engine type and that it “doesn’t matter” which turbines are actually used on initial flights.

The A320neo series is critical to Airbus’s future, with the more efficient upgrade of the company best-selling model winning close to 4,500 orders since it went on sale in 2010. As of December, United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt had won 28 percent of engine contests and CFM, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA, 33 percent, with the rest undecided.

Qatar Delay

The switch involving the A321neo test plane comes amid technical difficulties that mean the Pratt engine requires special measures to reach the right temperature on startup. Airbus didn’t offer a specific reason for the change, while Pratt spokeswoman Sara Banda said it didn’t want to speak for clients.

Qatar Airways Ltd., earmarked as the first A320neo customer, refused delivery in December and said recently it would be “months” before it takes a plane. Airbus hasn’t indicated when it plans to hand over the first Qatar aircraft, and neither has it said publicly when deliveries to India’s IndiGo will proceed.

U.S. competitor Boeing Co. began developing a rival aircraft more than a year after Airbus got to work. Boeing sent the first 737 Max to a paint shop on Nov. 30, meeting to the day a time line set four years ago. Airbus appeared to be sticking to its own schedule until the delays emerged in December.

Airbus shares fell 5.4 percent to close at 51.13 euros Monday in Paris, their biggest one-day drop since December 2014. Safran dropped 5.8 percent to 51.14 euros, its largest decline since December 2011, after analysts at Jefferies and Deutsche Bank cut their price targets, citing concerns including currency hedging and new-engine pricing.

United Technologies declined 1.2 percent to $86.78 in New York, while GE decreased 1.3 percent to $28.17.

Greg Hayes, chief executive officer of United Technologies, said in December that the cool-down process for the Pratt geared turbofan deployed on the A320neo had issues, and that the problem would be addressed in February with “more robustness” to be introduced to some parts.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG is the only airline to have taken delivery of an A320neo, though the German carrier received its own aircraft about two weeks late.

IndiGo’s first jet is also late. The company said before its recent IPO that the Neo would save it 15 percent in fuel costs. Instead, it has been forced to lease in used planes to make up for the loss in planned capacity.

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