MIAMI — Mitsubishi has grounded their fleet of MRJ test aircraft after experiencing a major engine issue earlier this week.
UPDATE 6:00 p.m. EST: Mitsubishi has updated Airways on the investigation into the engine flamout. According to Mitsubishi: “Engine is removed and has been transported to a Pratt & Whitney facility to enable a more thorough investigation. Replacement engine has been sent to Portland for FTA-2 and has been installed. We will decide when we will fly back to Moses Lake when we have more information on the cause.”
Speaking to Airways, an MRJ spokesperson detailed the incident that occurred.
“On Monday, August 21, MRJ’s FTA-2 experienced a flameout in the left engine. An unscheduled landing was made at the nearest airport, Portland International, as per our flight operations manual. FTA-2 took off from Moses Lake at 2:00 P.M. local time, and landed at Portland International at 5:12 P.M. It occurred in training airspace over the ocean, approx. 170 kilometers west of Portland.”
Currently, the aircraft remains on the ground in Portland before necessary repairs are made.
“Now Mitsubishi Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney teams are onsite at Portland International to assess the cause. After a quick investigation with the borescope, we confirmed that there was partial damage inside the engine. We are still investigating the cause,” said Mitsubishi Aircraft.
— Isaac ✈ Alexander (@jetcitystar) August 25, 2017
This week’s engine problem is the latest in a series of setbacks for the MRJ program. Earlier this year, Mitsubishi announced that delivery of their first aircraft for Japanese airline All-Nippon Airways had been delayed from 2018 until mid-2020 citing “revisions of certain systems and electrical configurations on the aircraft” intended to meet the latest requirements for certification.
The company further stated that these design changes “will not affect aircraft performance, fuel consumption, or functionality of systems.”
In a statement sent to Airways, a Pratt & Whitney spokesperson said: “A Mitsubishi Regional Jet flight test vehicle, powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1200G engines, was diverted to Portland International Airport Aug. 21 and landed without incident. Pratt & Whitney is working with Mitsubishi to assess the cause of the flight event and any further implications to the flight test program.”
For Pratt & Whitney, this week’s engine flameout is one of many issues facing the next generation GTF engine.
Pratt & Whitney is also facing challenges with its GTF engines powering the Airbus A320neo. In recent months, 46% of delivered A320neos using Pratt & Whitney engines have been grounded for at least one week according to Bloomberg.
For over three months, two Spirit A320neos were stored at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport awaiting new engines. Possibly due to these issues, Spirit recently pushed delivery of several A320neo aircraft from 2018 to 2019.
In April, Spirit Airlines spoke to Airways about its ongoing problems with its A320neo fleet. “The issues with the Neo engines have led to some cancellations within our network, but from a customer’s perspective, the impact has been minimal. To be clear, this is not a safety issue. The Neo engines are electronically monitored so this allows us to check any potential issues well in advance of any larger issues. But the issues with the NEOs has caused a spare engine problem for Spirit. Spirit relies on Pratt & Whitney and Airbus to provide the support we need to make our operations run smoothly. We are working with the engine manufacturer to provide the needed support. We are also working with both Pratt & Whitney and Airbus on short term and long term solutions to provide the support we need,” said a Spirit Airlines spokesperson.
Airlines including ANA, China Southern, IndiGo, Hong Kong Express, LATAM, and Spirit have all had to park Pratt & Whitney powered A320neos at times.
The main problem facing these airlines is a lack of replacement engines available. As Pratt & Whitney increases production of the GTF to meet the growing demand to power the A320neo, 737 MAX, CSeries, Embraer E-2, and the MRJ, they have been unable to meet adequately supply replacement engines in a timely manner.
In 2014, the Bombardier CSeries test fleet was grounded after one of its test aircraft experienced a sudden loss of power and uncontained failure of one of the Pratt & Whitney PW1500G engines.
Both the engine manufacturer and Bombardier later finalized a solution to the problem, identified as a defect in the powerplant’s oil lubrication system. The CSeries returned to flight in September of that year after several months on the ground.
The MRJ currently has 243 orders from eight customers including ANA, Japan Airlines, SkyWest, and Eastern Airlines.