The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has ordered a safety audit of IndiGo, India's largest airline which operates the A-320 NEO (New Engine Option) aircraft which has faced numerous engine issues with its next-generation Pratt & Whitney engines.
"We confirm that there is currently a DGCA audit on IndiGo which is combined with the annual main base audit," IndiGo said in a statement.
In its statement, the airline has confirmed that it has received ''a limited number of show cause notices'' and ''has responded accordingly.'' According to sources, the show cause notice by the aviation watchdog was issued to the airline's Chief Operating Officer and and its Head of Engineering. IndiGo has not replied to a pointed query on whether these two officials have been issued a show cause.
In a statement, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said, ''We do detailed audit of all airlines at least once in a year. Indigo is this month. Some other one in June. Every audit involves some actions.'' The DGCA has also confirmed that ''in such audits, current safety issues remain quite a focus.''
Sources have indicated to NDTV that the audit was ordered to look into instances of the airline not reporting incidents involving the A-320 NEO aircraft.
In their statement, IndiGo says it ''refutes the reasons for the audit quoted in your query. We can confirm that IndiGo operation is run in even more stringent ways as prescribed by regulatory framework.''
According to sources, there have been at least 18 cases of mid-air engine failures or problems that IndiGo and GoAir have encountered with the A-320 NEO aircraft since January this year.
Earlier this month, the Delhi High Court had sought responses from the DGCA on a request which sought to ground the Airbus A-320 NEO aircraft fitted with problematic Pratt & Whitney engines.
Last month, the DGCA grounded Indian airlines operating the Boeing 737-MAX aircraft after the crash of an Ethiopian airliner with 157 people onboard. Five months earlier, there was a similar crash of the type in Indonesia in which 189 passengers and crew were killed.
IndiGo operates a fleet of 220 aircraft, including 74 new generation A-320 NEOs. According to the airline, it had a market share of 43.4 per cent in February this year.
In January, the DGCA had banned IndiGo and GoAir from operating their Pratt & Whitney-engined A-320s to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar chain after a series of mid-air engine shutdowns. This was done to prevent the aircraft being more than an hour away from the nearest airport in the event of an in-flight engine-related emergency.
The Airbus A-320 NEO is the latest variant of the European single-aisle jet which is one of the bestsellers in the history of civil aviation. IndiGo, GoAir, Air India and Vistara are the Indian carriers which fly the NEO but the bulk of the problems with the new type affect IndiGo and GoAir which fly the Pratt & Whitney 1100 series engine.
The problems have been mostly linked to a component called a "knife edge seal" in the High Pressure Compressors in the engines. The seals are designed to prevent leaks and protect the engines from contamination while containing pressure.
Pratt & Whitney has repeatedly said that it is working towards a technical solution which will minimise operational disruptions for airlines but engine-related issues on the P&W 1100 series engine continue to plague airlines which have been forced to frequently ground the aircraft. Both Airbus and Pratt & Whitney have been forced to compensate the airline every time this occurs.
Air India and Vistara's NEOs are equipped with the CFM LEAP-1A engine which have reported far fewer technical glitches and continue to operate without operating restrictions. Both Pratt & Whitney and CFM promise a 15 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency along with a significant reduction in emissions over older engine types powering A-320s around the world, the reason why several airlines have chosen to convert to the new newer type.