Airbus A320neo Airbus

Findings In Failure

Tough entry into service can help on the aftermarket side.

There isn't much silver lining in the dark clouds generated by entry-into-service issues such as those plaguing the Pratt & Whitney PW1000 geared turbofan (GTF). Problems with combustors, oil seals and fan blades are now-familiar reasons that the engine's in-service and supply-chain performances are lagging, causing airlines to ground aircraft and Airbus to park engine-less A320neos.

If there is one positive to come out of the struggles, it's that Pratt's MRO assumptions are getting a real-world shakedown long before the first powerplants come in for scheduled service. Pratt's Columbus Engine Center has been turning wrenches on GTFs since early 2016. Most of the work is being generated by number 3 bearing seal upgrades, on both just-built engines and, in some cases, units pulled in from the field. 

GTF MRO network sites MTU Aero Engines and Japanese Aero Engines Corp. are up and running as well, sharing lessons gleaned from early looks at engines with revenue-service hours and cycles. Lufthansa Technik, another partner, is slated to start work later this year. Underperforming parts—the combustor is now on its third iteration, with the first 17 engines having the "A" version before a "B" version was introduced and subsequently didn't meet expectations—are giving engineers extensive opportunities to test their assumptions. Engineers are on-site at shops to get first-hand looks at just-removed engines to assess parts wear, for instance. Lessons learned are shared with network partners. Repairs, both for the troubled parts and some ancillary issues, are being developed and validated.

"We develop a repair strategy and prioritize which repairs we think we need to develop and when, and this has given us opportunity to validate that," says Eva Azoulay, vice president, Pratt & Whitney Engine Services. "Are there repairs we would need that we need to focus on earlier? Or if we don't think that repair is going to be required, we can change our plans."

It will be several years before the first GTF is pulled for scheduled shop work, and even then it will be light shop visits. Full overhauls might still be as long as a decade away. By then, it's a good bet the entry-into-service issues will be a distant memory. But look closely, and the precious few benefits that such a major disruption provides will be visible on shop floors.

For more on the MRO side of the newest engines in service, see Inside MRO's upcoming September issue.

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