An employee inspects the turbofan blades of an aircraft engine, which power the Airbus 320 family of passenger aircraft (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)  

Pratt Said to Assess Neo Engine Vibrations as FAA Weighs Action

(Bloomberg) -- Pratt & Whitney is investigating incidents of excessive vibration in its engines that power Airbus SE’s A320neo aircraft, the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the new turbine, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. manufacturer, a unit of Farmington, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., has yet to identify the cause and is assessing if there is a connection to prior design issues, the people said, asking not to be identified as the process isn’t public. Pilots have in some instances received alerts of high vibration levels during flights, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is looking into the matter.

“The FAA is aware of the vibration issue, and we are currently working with Pratt and Whitney on the cause,” a spokesperson for the agency said in an emailed statement, adding that it is too early to determine whether to issue mandatory instructions to airline operators.

Pratt Said to Assess Neo Engine Vibrations as FAA Weighs Action

Pratt’s geared turbofan, a step-change in the efficiency of turbines for commercial aircraft, has been hit by a run of design flaws that have grounded planes, delayed deliveries and prompted hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation claims. About 10 Pratt-powered A320neos are typically grounded at one time as the manufacturer installs fixes.

“Pratt & Whitney is working closely with our customers to support their operations while continuing to retrofit the fleet to the latest engine configuration,” the company said in an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News.

A spokesman for Airbus declined to comment. The planemaker, based in Toulouse, France, has said that it still expects to meet its goal to deliver around 800 aircraft this year. The company’s shares fell as much as 1.4 percent and were down 1.1 percent at 108.80 euros as of 4:49 p.m. in Paris. United Technologies traded as much as 0.8 percent lower in New York.

For Airbus to meet its annual production goal, there is “no scope for even minor further disruption arising from the new vibration issue,” Jefferies International analyst Sandy Morris wrote in a note to clients. “The risk is that the series of issues with the GTF engine may have begun to test investor’s patience.”

Problems with the new Pratt engines, and to a lesser extent a competing turbine from CFM International, have hobbled production of the latest generation of narrow-body planes from Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing Co. The setbacks, at a time when demand is surging, have turned what should be a boom time for plane makers and their suppliers into a period marred by aircraft groundings, safety warnings and extra costs.

Pratt Said to Assess Neo Engine Vibrations as FAA Weighs Action

Since May, Pratt has been increasing deliveries for the A320neo, a “re-engined” version of the single-aisle A320 designed to save airlines operating costs by reducing fuel consumption. The latest issue requires parts to be replaced more frequently, taking aircraft out of service for longer and reducing the pool of spare engines available to carriers, the people said.

Pratt is meeting with airlines and has started tests. These involve assembling the geared turbofan engine using combinations of old and new designs of faulty parts to help locate the root of the issue, according to one of the people.

The scale of the latest problem appears less disruptive than recent issues with the engine’s combustor, oil seal and knife-edge seal, the people said. Those issues, which triggered a three-month halt to production at the start of the year, have been resolved in new engines delivered by Pratt.

The company is still working through fixes for engines in existing A320neo fleets. Faulty knife-edge seals have been replaced, though all of the engines -- including ones now being produced -- will require a redesigned version to be installed later to address durability issues. Pratt is still catching up on upgrading in-service engines to fix the combustor and oil-seal problems.

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