Airlines Highlight Engine Scarcity As Key Concern

Credit: Markus Mainka/Alamy Stock Photo

BUDAPEST, Hungary—Airlines attending the CAPA Airline Leader Summit have highlighted aircraft availability as a key concern ahead of what is expected to be an extremely busy summer season, with many operators scrambling to find alternatives to ensure actual capacity matches their plans.

“Pre-summer capacity is really important to us,” Sun Express CEO Max Kownatzki told attendees at the event in Budapest, Hungary, on March 16. 

The airline had expected to receive five more Boeing 737-8s before the summer peak, but those deliveries have slipped at least until the fall. In anticipation of possible delays, Sun Express secured operating leases for 17 additional aircraft on operating leases, five of which are arriving ahead of the summer.

Kownatzki and other executives criticized the OEMs for continuing to define the persistent delays as “excusable events,” which frees them from having to pay compensation under the terms of their contracts with customers. However, OEMs argue that it is out of their hands as it is their own suppliers which are causing the delays. The suppliers in turn point to delays at secondary and tertiary suppliers.

Sun Express—a joint venture between Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa—will have to deal with major uncertainty about its fleet size all year. Boeing may yet deliver four 737-8s after the summer peak, which would lead the airline to having more capacity than originally planned at a time of the year when demand typically dips. In its specific case, the airline would take the opportunity to grow faster, given high demand in the international markets it serves from Turkey.

But others are hit harder. AirBaltic has up to 11 Airbus A220s on the ground awaiting Pratt & Whitney PW1500G engines. Some of the effect is being reduced with aircraft coming up for C-checks. However, airBaltic has had to agree to wet-leasing four A320s from Avion Express to guarantee it can fly its planned schedule. “We will not cancel flights in the summer,” airBaltic CEO Martin Gauss said.

Gauss does not expect any quick improvements and believes the shortage can only be overcome by the end of 2024.

“There is engine efficiency, but not durability,” he said. Engines now coming off the production line new are up to specifications, but prior-built standard powerplants are having to be removed much sooner than planned. Some of them have only been on wing for less than 100 cycles, while some stayed for a few hundred flights. 

Anticipating issues, airBaltic bought seven spare engines to compensate for repairs and upgrades. “But these have not been enough,” Gauss said. AirBaltic needs more engines rented from Pratt as an interim solution, but even these are not available in sufficient numbers. 

Some of the early A220s have had their engines removed three times since they started flying six years ago. AirBaltic has also placed part of its A220 fleet on long-term wet-lease contracts and cannot pull them back into its own operation.

Play CEO Birgir Jonsson said that—so far—A320neo deliveries to his Icelandic LCC are on track. “For us, to lose one aircraft would be really bad,” he stressed.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.