An IndiGo Airlines A320 aircraft. Photo: AFP

India’s largest airline IndiGo has had a breather from the aviation regulator over replacements of the controversial Pratt & Whitney engines on its Airbus A320neo aircraft.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation extended the earlier deadline of January 31 to May 31.

The aircraft forms a substantial chunk of IndiGo’s fleet and the airline is in the process of replacing the engines, which have been facing glitches both midair and on the ground since their induction in 2016.

However, the January 31 deadline would have forced the airline to ground many of its aircraft.

The aviation regulator agreed to extend the deadline as IndiGo had placed at least one modified engine in each of its Pratt & Whitney-powered A320neo aircraft in its fleet. Each aircraft has two engines.

This was also done keeping in mind the March 2020 deadline set by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.

IndiGo will, however, have to procure 135 engines, according to plans submitted to the Indian aviation regulator. The airline made assurances it would complete the replacement of the engines by the end of June, but the aviation regulator wanted to finish it by May 31 and warned that no aircraft with older engines would be allowed to fly after that.

Under an earlier plan, IndiGo was required to change 120 P&W engines by December 2019. The number of engines to be replaced has risen because of stringent inspections to ensure zero problems with planes mid-air.

Last year the engines of the A320neos repeatedly suffered problems and over the past few months caused large-scale flight disruptions affecting thousands of passengers and raising safety concerns.

The civil aviation watchdog in November intervened after four incidents of technical snags involving P&W-powered A320neo planes operated by IndiGo in October. The regulator directed IndiGo to stop flying A320neo planes that have been in operation for more than 3,000 hours. It also set a deadline of January 31 to replace the problematic engines.

IndiGo’s efforts to procure modified engines was impacted because of holidays during Christmas and the New Year. The airline spokesperson said the airline would abide by the DGCA’s guidelines.

IndiGo has a fleet of 257 aircraft comprising 222 Airbus 320 planes, including 96 A320neo aircraft, 10 A321neo planes and 25 ATR planes. In October it placed an order for 300 aircraft with Airbus, worth an estimated US$33 billion, to replace old planes.

The order, one of the biggest for Airbus from a single airline operator, is for a mix of A320neo, A321neo and A321XLR (Extra Long Range) aircraft.

The budget carrier is looking to grow its international routes and will deploy a long-range version of the single-aisle A320neo family, the A321 XLR. Indigo wants to fly to London, Istanbul and other destinations. The airline also signed a codeshare agreement with Qatar Airways.

Apart from the technical woes, the airline is facing turbulence in its boardroom, with its two founders, Rakesh Gangwal and Rahul Bhatia, at loggerheads. Gangwal alleged he was being sidelined and had even approached the stock-market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, to complain.

Although the two founders enjoy almost equal stakes in the airline, Bhatia wields much greater control over the board and management. His holding company Inter-Globe Enterprises (IGE) has the right to appoint key managerial personnel, including the chairman, managing director, CEO and president. It also has the right to nominate three non-independent directors, one of whom will be non-retiring.

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