A heartless body #989

Published On: February 17, 2018 12:02 AM NPT By: Hemant Arjyal

Engines have become extremely reliable, this was unthinkable until the 90s

There is no denying that for a healthy living both body and heart are important but we generally treat the latter more seriously. Perhaps it is so because it happens to be the only body part that we can actually feel/hear functioning. It beats faster during periods of high excitement/fear or when the body is pushed to the extreme. But it becomes a matter of concern if the untiring pump becomes irregular or misses a beat or two. 

It is no different in an aircraft either as engine is taken as its heart and the fuselage as the body. The single engine is analogous to human heart and is considered posing a greater safety risk than multi engine. Once airborne, a multi engine aircraft can be kept flying, even with half the number of installed engines working. 

This write up deals with jet engines as these, in current form and format, are emerging to be distinctly different both in terms of fuel consumption and noise reduction than those of the 70s. Engines have become extremely reliable and it is now common to see a 2-holers flying hours over long stretches of open seas, something quite unthinkable even until the early 90s. 

Making of engine
Identity of an aircraft is generally attributed to the brand of the fuselage maker only. The brand of the engine that hangs under its wings does seldom get mentioned. In reality, the choice of an engine is generally left to the airline depending on its requirement from the available options. At times airlines deliberately maintain a fleet with engines from two different makers. This helps in making not only just comparative performance analysis but also about their individual maintenance requirements. 

Making of an engine is a highly complex endeavour requiring exorbitant amount on research and development. Unconcerned, airlines demand for progressively more fuel efficient engine never seems to end. It was quite different when the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) was cheap. No one ever bothered about fuel guzzling engines of early years.

The idea of creating forward motion by directing a jet of fluid in the opposite direction dates back to ancient times. However, in modern times Maxime Guillaume (French) was granted a patent for a simple jet engine in 1922 but it was not built. Likewise, Frank Whittle was the first English engineer to register a patent for a turbo jet engine in 1930 but failed to impress upon his superiors at Royal Air Force. Undeterred, he carried on with his friends’ help and built a prototype and ran it successfully. 

Germans, on the other hand, having a keen eye for technology, helped Hans Von Ohain in every possible way as they instantly saw the importance of what Ohain and Whittle had pursued independently. As a result Ohain’s engine, fitted on to a German fighter, was the first to fly in 1939. The flight could not be sustained beyond six minutes but it was a landmark achievement. The English establishment woke up from the slumber as they saw what the Germans had achieved. It is believed that all documents related to Whittle’s research was handed over to the Americans as the war ended. Ohine’s papers were already in their possession as Germany fell. Many including Whittle’s son, a pilot himself who flew B747 for Cathy Pacific, laments the way his father was treated by the British establishment. They feel even more for surrendering Britain’s early lead jet engine knowhow to the Americans. 

General Electric (GE), Rolls-Royce (RR), and Pratt and Whitney (P&W) are by far the largest engine makers for commercial aircrafts. Their market penetration is so deep that chances of flying with engines made by anyone of them or their joint venture hovers above 95 percent. International Aero Engines (IAE) was set up in 1983 as a partnership between P&W/RR/ Fiat/ Japanese engine makers and MTU to develop an engine for the 150-seater market. V2500 engine powers roughly half the Airbus A320-family aircraft in service. 

Interestingly, V2500 is the one that also powers RA’s A320s as detailed in a press release during Singapore Airshow 2014. “Given Nepal’s mountainous terrain, we chose V2500 SelectOne engines because of their long-standing reputation as both reliable and fuel-efficient powerplants,” said RA’s then MD. “These engines will help us to continue providing reliable air transport to our customers”, he further added. 

But the point is, one of the A320 (9N-AKW) was grounded at Delhi since December 25. It was finally flown to Seletar (Singapore) on February 8, after 44 days as RA501, possibly with a borrowed engine. At Seletar the sick one will go through a thorough check and repaired. In the meantime, the second hand engine, that is already said to be there, gets installed making the A320 airworthy again. It was expected to be back into service by February 13 but was still at Seletar until the morning of February 15. 

Dangerous delay
The issue here is not about reliability of V2500 as there are said to be over six thousand such engines with 200 airlines. I do not think it is normal that a jet engine requires a major repair in its less than three years of operation. The question is why is it taking so long to make the aircraft fly? Could it be a case of typical Nepali bureaucratic lethargy? If so, it is more abhorrent as we are talking about an airline, a flag carrier at that! One cannot afford to wait one and half day let alone over a month and half or even more. It has already made big holes in terms of lost revenue besides expected repair expenses and purchase of another engine. Passenger’s faith in what airlines strive to achieve at any cost, but Nepal Airlines management does not seem to worry about such trivial issues. It is, after all, a body without a heart that can afford to maintain a layback attitude, passengers be damned!  


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