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TOI was the first to report that 69 instances of engine failure were reported by IndiGo in just 18 months till September 2017. The final incident that pushed DGCA, the civil aviation watchdog, into action occurred early on Monday morning, when the right engine of an IndiGo A320neo aircraft, packed to capacity with 186 passengers and crew, failed mid-air on way from Ahmedabad to Lucknow.
The pilots radioed an emergency and the aircraft returned to touch down safely in Ahmedabad around 5.30am with ambulances and fire engines on standby.
You read it here first: TOI front page report on Feb 11.
‘DGCA shouldn’t have waited so long to ground aircraft’
Technological advances in multi-engine aircraft over three decades had made engine failure a rare occurrence, with only about 25 failures worldwide a year. A twin-engine aircraft like an A320 can land safely with one operational engine, but A320neos powered by Pratt & Whitney (PW) 1100 engines have had at least one engine failure per month since the time they were introduced globally in January 2016.
The recent incidents in India involve the March 5 IndiGo A320neo engine failure on takeoff from Mumbai. The aircraft took off at 6.40pm, only to return for an emergency landing at 7.10pm with one working engine. Before that, on February 24, a GoAir A320neo that took off from Leh had a mid-air engine failure.
Sources said IndiGo and Go Air were informed of the DGCA’s decision, issued in a press note around 4.30pm, earlier in the afternoon. The note said that A320neos fitted with “PW engines beyond ESN 450” would be grounded with immediate effect. By evening, A320neos were grounded in airports across the country, as thousands of passengers braced for delays and cancellations.
Air safety expert Capt Mohan Ranganathan said, “The DGCA shouldn’t have waited this long to ground the aircraft. It’s time we realised that passenger safety is more important than commercial requirements.”
Last month, a PIL was filed based on TOI’s reports in the Bombay high court. It sought the grounding of the entire A320neo fleet. Last Friday, the court asked the DGCA to file a reply.
IndiGo grounded three A320neos following a directive from the European aviation safety agency in February, which took the total number of grounded 180-seater A320neos in India to 14. Currently, IndiGo, with a market share of 40 %, operates a fleet of 155 A320 aircraft, including 45 A320neos (new engine option); 7% of these are now grounded. An IndiGo spokesperson said only nine A320neos are grounded. GoAir operates a fleet of 32 A320s (186-seater) and has a market share of 9.6%. The three grounded A320neos make for 9% of its fleet.
On February 9, the European civil aviation regulator red-flagged PW1100 engines manufactured mid-2017 onwards. Its directive read: “Several occurrences of engine in-flight shutdown and rejected takeoff have been reported on certain A320 neo family aeroplanes… preliminary findings indicate that the affected engines are more susceptive to inflight shutdown. This condition, if not corrected, could lead to dual engine shutdown.” EASA ordered that A320neos with two affected engines should be grounded, while those with only one can continue to fly. According to the DGCA, IndiGo then had eight A320neos and GoAir three, with one affected engine.
Following the 1990 Bangalore crash, the V P Singh government had grounded the entire A320 fleet of Indian Airlines. But the single-aisle, twin-engine aircraft recovered from that setback to turn into a workhorse for airline fleets the world over.