Airbus supplier RTX recalls 1,200 engines to fix 'microscopic contamination'

Between 2015 and 2021, parts were manufactured using a material produced in a New York facility, which unfortunately contained microscopic contamination.
Ameya Paleja
A GTF engine installed on an Airbus A320
A GTF engine installed on an Airbus A320

Pratt and Whitney  

Airbus supplier RTX, formerly known as Raytheon Technologies, has recalled 1,200 Geared Turbofan (GTF) engines built by its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney for "accelerated removal and inspection", the company's CEO  Greg Hayes told Reuters last week. The recall has been prompted by microscopic contamination in the powdered metal used to produce high-pressure turbine discs for the engine leading to a risk of accumulating microcracks.

The issue was first detected in Airbus A321ceo aircraft flown by a Vietnamese airline. The aircraft used an IAE V2500 turbofan engine, also built in partnership with Pratt & Whitney, and suffered a broken disc. Earlier this month, Pratt and Whitney determined that the contaminated powder was also used for its latest generation PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engines and has now initiated a recall for inspection well ahead of its schedule.

The troubled past of PW1100G

Pratt and Whitney developed the PW1100G engine as a specific variant to power Airbus A320neo aircraft with the promise of higher fuel efficiency and a 75 percent reduction in engine noise. A less-than-conventional design of the engine aims at making it a preferable option to operate aircraft in hotter climates and perhaps even on a warming planet.

The engines however have been plagued with issues from the start. Engine start times on the PW1100G are seven minutes as against 2.5 minutes on others and the thermal build causing deformation of the rotors was addressed through a series of changes made over two years, Popular Mechanics reported.

In 2018, Lufthansa grounded its PW1100G-powered A320neos after complaints of engine vibrations while climbing at high power. Earlier this year, Indian carrier GoFirst filed for bankruptcy after its fleet shrunk by half due to PW1100G engine failures and the slow rate of replacement.

Airbus supplier RTX recalls 1,200 engines to fix 'microscopic contamination'
GTF engines from Pratt and Whitney

Globally, 3,000 GTF have been delivered so far but estimates suggest that a tenth of the aircraft powered by these engines remain grounded or are flown at lower frequency due to delays in supply of spares from Pratt and Whitney.

1,200 engines part of the recall

RTX, then Raytheon, acquired Pratt and Whitney in 2020 but the contaminated powder was used to manufacture parts manufactured between 2015 and 2021. The parent company has estimated 1,200 engines are part of this recall of which 200 of the oldest engines on highest priority.

In the US, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines are among those whose fleet size will be curtailed leading to summer travel chaos, Business Insider reported. Hungarian carrier Wizz Air has 12 engines in the first round of 200 engines to be inspected and expects air fares to rise, while the engines remain unavailable.

According to RTX CEO Hayes, the engines part of the recall will not be put through the entire overhaul cycle, which typically lasts four to five months. Instead, they will be dissembled, and the high-pressure turbine disks will be inspected. If required, the disks will be replaced, and the entire process will be completed within 60 days.

The company is confident that only one percent of the engines will actually need a replacement. However, with another 1,000 engines required to go through the grind, the entire process could extend for well over a year, spilling over onto Christmas and beyond. The total number of engines to be inspected could increase or decrease depending on the findings of the recall.

A320neos with GTF engines that are currently in production will not be impacted due to this situation. Alternatively, airlines can opt for the LEAP engines, produced by American-French joint venture, CFM International, which are used on Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft.

RTX has maintained that the contamination does not lead to a flight safety issue.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board