The Airbus A220, originally the Bombardier CSeries, has garnered a lot of praise since entering service with SWISS in 2016. Passengers love the comfortable flying experience it offers, while some airlines have noted that the type's size and range were perfect for weathering the pandemic amid low load factors. But now, in 2023, we are seeing engine issues significantly impact the A220's ability to stay active and generate revenue for airlines.
The A220 fleet at a glance
As per Airbus data, up to March 31st, 2023, 256 A220s have been delivered to customers worldwide. This divides into exactly 200 A220-300s and 56 of the shorter -100. This figure will be slightly higher once April figures are released, although not by much. In terms of airframes ordered, the end of March saw a grand total of 785.
Interestingly, the March 2023 data states that all 256 delivered are "in operation." While we know that, for Airbus, this simply means no airframes have been officially retired or 'written-off', it fails to accurately portray the status of the type within many airline fleets. In fact, some A220s have worryingly been inactive for well over a year.
According to Planespotters.net data accurate as of May 4th, 2023, roughly 12% of all A220s are listed as 'parked.' While some have been assigned this status due to short-term and routine maintenance, other airframes have been sitting on the ground for much longer periods.
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Engine supply chain issues
The most notorious problems for the A220 are the supply chain issues being experienced by Pratt & Whitney (P&W). The A220 is exclusively powered by PW1500G geared turbofan engines. This powerplant is part of a larger family of geared turbofan engines that can also be found under the wings of Embraer E2 aircraft. Meanwhile, the larger Airbus A320neo employs the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G.
One A220 operator particularly vocal about P&W's supply chain problems is Latvian carrier airBaltic, which operates a single-type fleet of A220-300s. In an interview earlier this year, airline CEO Martin Gauss explained that, due to lifetime limited parts in the engines, at various intervals in the A220’s lifetime, engines must be removed from the airplane. Engines come off the wing and are shipped to a specialist MRO provider to change parts. Unfortunately, this process is taking far longer than it should at the moment, with Gauss saying:
“Normally, that would take, let's say, an average of 90 days to take the engine from the wing, ship it and get the engine back. That process now, instead of 90 days, takes eight months.”
The A220 status for airBaltic & SWISS
European operators airBaltic and SWISS were the earliest adopters of the A220, back when it was the CSeries. SWISS was the launch customer of the CS100, now A220-100, while airBaltic was the first to operate the CS300, now A220-300. Sadly, these two operators have numerous A220s grounded, waiting for engine parts.
This extended timeframe for engine servicing mentioned by airBaltic's CEO explains why the airline had 11 of its 41 jets unavailable for operations. According to an airline spokesperson, two of those aircraft are currently undergoing scheduled maintenance, while nine have been parked on the ground due to engine-related delays. As per FlightRadar24.com data, about four of these aircraft have not operated a flight since late December 2022.
Over at SWISS, an airline spokesperson told Simple Flying on May 4th that, on average, six to eight of the carrier's A220s (out of a total of 30) are currently not in service due to one or both engines needing to be replaced. FlightRadar24.com data indicates that one A220 has not flown since late February, while another has not been in the air since late March. "This number can fluctuate and depends on the supply situation," the representative stated. Additionally, it was clarified that an average of two to three aircraft are undergoing regular maintenance.
"The reason for the increased need for replacement engines is an earlier than planned need for overhaul of individual components. This overhaul is taking a long time because of the current shortage of spare parts – this is creating a backlog with the effects on flight operations..." -SWISS
SWISS notes that it has adjusted its operations and scheduling to minimize any impact on travelers. Interestingly enough, the carrier cites the support of its wet lease partners for providing "reliable flight operations even in this challenging environment." One of those wet lease partners? airBaltic.
Unsuitable for hot and dusty environments?
Engine supply chain issues, while severe, will be resolved with time. Indeed, airBaltic expects its engine backlog to clear by 2025. Even better news for operators with large fleets of newer A220s is that engine reliability for later models is reported to have improved. This allows A220s delivered later to spend an extended time in service before serious maintenance is required.
Unfortunately, it appears that P&W's geared turbofan engines may have a much more serious problem on their hands. Indeed, there seems to be a problem disproportionately impacting airlines operating in hot, humid and dusty conditions. With regard to the larger PW1100G powering the A320neo, India’s Go First told FlightGlobal that it had replaced 510 PW1100G engines in recent years, experiencing 64 ‘defective’ engine incidents in April alone.
Over in Iraq, it appears that the country's civil aviation regulator wants Iraqi Airways to suspend all of its A220-300 operations until investigation procedures are completed. In our reporting on the situation, Simple Flying received unverified photos of what is alleged to be an A220 fan casing that has begun to deteriorate.
Reporting by Airspace Africa noted that Air Tanzania and Air Senegal have also been experiencing A220 engine failures. The chief at Air Tanzania stated that, despite the A220 engine being designed for 5,260 landings, the airline was having to remove powerplants even before 1,000 landings had taken place.
Perhaps the most interesting situation is the one we are seeing at EgyptAir. Of the 12 A220-300s delivered to the airline, six - or 50% - are listed as parked. A further examination of the flight history of each airframe reveals that some have not taken to the skies in well over a year. Indeed, three of EgyptAir's A220s have not flown since late 2021, while another two have not flown since about mid-2022. The 6th parked aircraft has not flown since October 2022.
These are startlingly long times to leave a next-generation aircraft type inactive. Simple Flying made efforts to connect with EgyptAir to understand the situation better, but was unable to get in touch with anyone from the airline.
Other fleets in relatively good shape?
From Iraq to South Korea to Canada, there seems to be a huge disparity in the number of A220s grounded. It does appear that airlines operating the type in hotter environments are seeing a larger percentage of their A220s 'offline.' However, it's rather different for airlines in other parts of the world - at least at this point in time.
As of May 4th...
- Korean Air has one of its 10 A220s on the ground. This aircraft has not flown since late March.
- Air France has two of its 23 A220s parked. One has not flown since March 17th and the other, April 23rd.
- Of Air Canada's 33 A220s, three are parked. One has not flown since December 17th, while the other two have been on the ground since about mid-April.
- And finally, of the other carriers with larger A220 fleets, 100% of JetBlue's 17 and Breeze Airways' 12 jets are operational. Just a single airframe from of Delta Air Lines' 60 A220s has been on the ground for some time, not flying since April 3rd.
As clarified by both airBaltic and SWISS in their statements to Simple Flying, some parked A220s are simply undergoing scheduled maintenance. Thus, not all aircraft listed as 'parked' should be considered as suffering from engine issues. At the same time, however, it is interesting to see how long some jets have spent on the ground without operating any revenue flights.
Equally as interesting is the case of Delta Air Lines, operator of the largest A220 fleet globally and a fairly early customer of the type. With so many aircraft in service, Simple Flying asked the airline how it has been able to seemingly operate unscathed by the same problems experienced by other carriers. A Delta spokesperson declined to comment. A similar inquiry was sent to Air Canada, who did not respond to Simple Flying before this article's publication.
What are your thoughts on the global Airbus A220 situation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
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