Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, the world’s largest international airlines by market share, has found itself at the center of a controversy with its three newest additions to its fleets – two of which are currently grounded after engine issues.
Cathay’s A330 aircraft, sold and delivered from Airbus, has been suffering periodic malfunctions of the airline’s 4,000shp engines over the past month or so. Specifically, the aircraft is leaking oil and some have been experienced as minor engine knock.
Rather than return the aircraft to a hangar or offer any other kind of remedy, the airline has simply grounded the three-strong fleet pending further investigations.
What is a malfunction?
Cathay’s A330, with its serial number JJ19SW, is registered to a house in the Chinese city of Xuzhou. The plane is very distinctive as it is one of only 28 manufactured in the very latest version of the Airbus aircraft – the A350.
The Airbus A350, known as the XWB, was completed only in 2015 and now has over 1,100 orders. With a potential range of 12,330 miles, it can fly from one side of the planet to the other, with little fuel use. (2 hour 35 minutes), compared to the previous generation A330, which could fly the same distance in just under two hours.
Airbus described its ability to fly for this amount of time, with low fuel burn, as a “game changer for airlines”.
Photos show an almost constant procession of the engine-free aircraft coming and going from the Xuzhou assembly yard, causing speculation as to what the engine problem is and whether the problem lies within the industrial processes.
Recently, there has been talk of a transmission issue.
Where could the problem lie?
According to internet rumors, it is said that the problem lies within Airbus’ manufacture of the A330 as the aircraft itself is apparently very difficult to configure.
From the factory, it is separated into three engines, each driven by an electric motor that feeds into two main transistors.
These two transistors are then fed into “nearly 50 individual microprocessors” according to Airbus. These microprocessors then control the whole aircraft.
The user is required to program all the commands for each engine individually and this is how the engines can indeed have difficulties performing if the situation calls for further driving in from the electric motors.
The master however seems to be happy to hand over control, with the UK’s The Telegraph reporting that the engines themselves seem to be making normal operations.
Cathay Pacific does not own the aircraft, and it is not unusual for a manufacturer to hold some kind of obligation regarding re-supplying such aircraft.
The airline is talking with Airbus over the possibility of replacing the engines.
“We are speaking to Airbus about fixing the problem, but don’t believe there is one fault,” said Chris Pang, Cathay’s director of fleet and fleet planning in an interview with the Guardian.
Once the aircraft is replaced, it will have an operating history of around 15 years on the ground and fly for the airline when normal use resumes.