India’s largest private airline is flying deeper into trouble—on a failing engine

No respite in sight.
No respite in sight.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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IndiGo’s long struggle with American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s engines is beginning to hurt badly now.

On Aug. 20, India’s largest airline by market share said it had grounded another aircraft—its 22nd this year. “An IndiGo A320 neo has been grounded and is undergoing a routine engine change. There is no impact on our flight operations,” it said.

The company’s engine ordeal dates back to 2016 when it received the first batch of A320 neos. While it has managed to deal with the issue so far, things may be changing now.

On July 30, it posted a 97% year-on-year decline in profit to Rs28 crore ($4 million) for the quarter ended June 2018. The fuel cost alone rose some 54% year-on-year. Macroeconomic factors like a depreciating rupee and rising fuel prices have hit IndiGo’s rivals Jet Airways and GoAir, too.

So grounding aircraft at this stage can hurt substantially.

In March alone, IndiGo may have lost approximately Rs7.2 lakh in revenue per day on each of its 11 grounded aircraft.

Not alone

IndiGo isn’t the only airline to have seen groundings this year. National carrier Air India and budget airline GoAir have had their share, too.

However, the Pratt & Whitney engines have been of particular concern.

Overuse of the new A320 neos under Indian conditions is one of the primary reasons for snags occurring regularly, said an aviation sector analyst with a rating agency. “India is a new domain for these new aircraft. The environment here is completely different. These engines are not really meant for flying 14-15 hours a day,” the analyst told Quartz on the condition of anonymity.

In a price-sensitive market like India, owners focus on volumes, stretching these new engines beyond limits, the analyst said. “You either need to make engines suitable to pull that kind of volume pressure or stop pressurising the engines with an unreasonable number of flights.”