Moneycontrol PRO
Upcoming Event:Attend Algo Convention Live, 2 Days & 12+ Speakers at best offer Rs.999/-, exclusive for Moneycontrol Pro subscribers. Register now!
you are here: HomeNewsBusiness

Does United Airlines' engine failure impact Pratt & Whitney's chance in Indian market?

The Boeing 777 aircraft that was involved in the incident had a PW4000 engine. In India, IndiGo and GoAir used Pratt & Whitney engines in their A320Neo aircraft, and these had to be replaced after multiple snags

February 25, 2021 / 11:27 AM IST
  • bselive
  • nselive
Todays L/H

Much of the initial focus and debate after the engine failure incident involving a United Airlines flight has been on Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer whose B777 plane was involved in the episode.

In fact, the same day - February 20 - of the United incident, a Boeing 747 cargo plane had a similar engine failure event over the Netherlands.

The scrutiny is not surprising. The American manufacturer has been under the dock ever since its Max 737 aircraft got grounded in 2019 after it was involved in two fatal tragedies. In another incident in January this year, a Boeing 737 crashed soon after take-off from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

But the twin incidents on February 20, weren't just about Boeing. Engines of both aircraft were from Pratt & Whitney (P&W), one of the biggest engine suppliers in the world. The engine used here was the PW4000, which first came into use in 1984.

The PW4000, which apart from United is also used by Korean Air and Japanese airlines ANA and Japan Airlines, has had similar incidents before. In the previous two instances, in 2018 and 2020, the engine failed in circumstances that appear similar to the February 20 one. A fan blade broke, eventually leading to multiple failures. Fortunately, in all incidents, pilots managed to land the aircraft back safely.


Read more: Here's why Air India, which also has Boeing 777 aircraft, doesn't need to bother about changing engines

For those following Indian aviation, P&W was in news here too when IndiGo and GoAir were forced to replace the engines of their Airbus A320Neo aircraft after multiple snags. IndiGo completed the exercise of changing engines in all its 106 Neo planes last year. These aircraft used P&W's geared turbofan, or GTF, engines.

Does it mean that the United incident will impact P&W's prospects in India and the rest of the aviation market? Like the order cancellation Boeing suffered after the grounding of Max 737, will P&W face a similar challenge?

The impact

May not be.

"We don't see any impact," says Rohit Tomar, Managing Partner, Caladrius Aero, an aviation consulting firm.

"The PW400 is a very old engine and is tried and tested and proven. You will see its variants in other Boeing aircraft, including in the 747s. While the United incident is being investigated, it's not going to have a significant impact on other engine models as they are built on a different architecture," Tomar added.

The US Federal Aviation Administration, the regulator, has asked P&W to inspect all Boeing 777 aircraft fit with the PW4000 engine. United, which is the only US airline that has the 777 with the P&W engine, has 52 of these aircraft. World over, there are 128.

To understand better why the episode may not impact P&W much, Craig Jenks, President and Founder, Airline/Aircraft Projects, a consultancy based in New York, pointed out the importance of the product cycle of an engine.

"If you want very high reliability, you don’t go with very old, or with very new engines," said Jenks. The ones used by the B777 aircraft were old. On the other end of the spectrum, the GTFs are the latest.

"Like in many new products that are just launched in the market, there could be changes needed. That is what happened with GTF engines used in IndiGo and GoAir aircraft," said an executive from the industry.

Agrees Jenks. "Early GTFs were not very reliable. They had to change engines and fix parts quite often. It was a learning curve for PW. As it is for any bold new product," he said.

And though IndiGo may have chosen engines from another major manufacturer CFM for its next batch of A320Neos - "it was more of a commercial decision," said the executive quoted above - Jenks expects GTFs to do well.

"It is likely this GTF engine will slowly but steadily gain market share on both existing and new airplane types in coming years," he adds. One of the many reasons is that the engine claims to be 20 percent more fuel efficient, a crucial factor for airlines for whom ATF is the biggest cost.

In all, P&W engines, which are also widely used in general aviation and defence, will continue to be an option for airlines.

Download your money calendar for 2022-23 here and keep your dates with your moneybox, investments, taxes

Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Feb 25, 2021 11:07 am
ISO 27001 - BSI Assurance Mark