AirBaltic Sees No Short-Term Resolution To A220 Engine Problems

AirBaltic A220-300
Credit: Airbus

The ongoing shortage of Pratt & Whitney engines has left 10 of airBaltic’s 41 Airbus A220-300s grounded, with 16 engines stuck in the Latvian carrier’s hangars awaiting repair and no resolution in sight.

“I’m a very patient and calm person, until it comes to the subject of Pratt & Whitney,” airBaltic CEO Martin Gauss told delegates at Routes Europe in Lodz, Poland.

Gauss said airBaltic’s entire board traveled to Connecticut in early May to hammer out the situation in person, after Pratt & Whitney reneged on earlier indications that the problem would be solved in 2023.

“We sat with them, and we discussed the issue of not having sufficient spare engines for the A220,” Gauss said. “Pratt & Whitney cannot provide [new technology] engines for the foreseeable future.”

Gauss said airBaltic is unlikely to have sufficient engines in 2023 or 2024. The Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-family engine shortage is being caused by durability problems exacerbated by industry-wide supply chain issues, linked with the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and spiraling inflation. 

“In our hangar, there are 16 engines on pallets, wrapped and ready to be shipped to an MRO, but there’s no slot you can get to repair these engines,” he said. “These engines are rotting in our hangar.”

AirBaltic has its own spare engines, but these are also “in the shop and not coming back,” because the normal 90-day turnarounds are simply not happening. “We have engines which have been in the shop for 386 days. No airline can plan for that,” Gauss said.

In March, Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr told Aviation Daily that six aircraft—one-third of its A220 fleet—were grounded in Switzerland because of engine issues.

A Pratt & Whitney spokesperson said the supply chain pressures are expected to ease later in 2023, which should help increase the output of new and overhauled engines. Pratt & Whitney is providing “direct logistical support” to its suppliers and is working to improve engine durability.

AirBaltic has been particularly hard hit, because its single-fleet strategy makes it heavily dependent on A220s. This is an issue when combined with its early adopter status—airBaltic was the A220-300 launch operator—meaning: maturity problems have the potential to significantly affect its operations. 

Despite the ongoing engine supply problems highlighting this as a significant weakness, Gauss is not willing to “blink” on this strategy, because the airBaltic model rests on a simplified fleet. “Once something else comes into this perfect operation, even a wet-lease provider, it doesn’t work as well,” he said. “We have optimized for this aircraft. We’ve simplified our product to an extent where it gives us a lot of benefits.”

For summer 2023, airBaltic has had to bring in wet-leased A320s as a stand-in for the 10 missing A220s. This has caused a backlash among its passengers, because airBaltic is currently wet-leasing out 14 of its 41 A220s to other airlines. Gauss defended this move, saying airBaltic is committed to the A220 wet-lease work under long-term contracts, whereas the engine supply issues were meant to be resolved in the short term.

Despite the current disruption, airBaltic will expand its A220 fleet to 50 aircraft by summer 2024, with 15 of these wet-leased to other airlines. Gauss is then planning to firm airBaltic’s 30 A220 options—taking it to 80 of the type, with 26 wet-leased out—and ultimately grow the fleet to 100 aircraft. This will be funded through an initial public offering (IPO) which is planned for late 2024.

AirBaltic’s long-term strategy sees scope for a maximum of 40 A220s based in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the remainder placed at non-Baltic bases or wet-leased out. Currently airBaltic has three A220s based in Tallinn (Estonia), two in Vilnius (Lithuania) and one in Tampere (Finland), with 14 wet-leased out and the remainder operating from its Riga home hub.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.