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The A220 is exclusively powered by PW1500G geared turbofan engines, which have a history of reliability issues.

Multiple airlines grounded their entire A220 fleet amid engine concerns (A220 Engine Woes Continue as More Operators Forced to Ground Airframes – Airways)

In September 2023, P&W recalled almost all of its 3,000 geared turbofan engines. (Pratt & Whitney Parent Stock Punished as Airbus Engine Defects Force Large Recall - The Messenger)

Also in September, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive for the engines. As did Transport Canada, stating that "high altitude climbs at higher thrust settings for engines with certain thrust ratings" may be a contributor to the failures, and cautions that "this condition, if not corrected, could lead to an uncontained failure of the engine and damage to the aeroplane".

This whole thing seems like a disaster and I’m terrified of putting my life in the hands of a PW1500G engine (flown by JetBlue on Friday). Is there any reason why I shouldn’t be? :)

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    $\begingroup$ How will you be getting to the airport? Flying in an airliner with a relatively poor safety record is still orders of magnitude safer than travelling by car, for example. $\endgroup$
    – Frog
    Dec 20, 2023 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Driving in a car $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Dec 20, 2023 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ You have confidence in the FAA when they issued an A.D. concerning the engines. Then later, you do not have confidence in the same FAA when they accept that the engine is safe for flight. Seems hypocritical, doesn't it? $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Dec 20, 2023 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim I don't know if they did or not. Its pointless to your question. The point is the FAA has approved it for flight (in some form-or-fashion). Why isn't the FAA's approval enough for you? You seem satisfied with their Airworthiness Directives, but not their approvals? $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Dec 20, 2023 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ If you actually monitored the actual stream of ADs issued all the time on different airplanes, you'd probably quit flying. There is a complex risk assessment and mitigation process followed. I used to participate in this sort of thing. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 21, 2023 at 0:33

6 Answers 6

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Multiple airlines grounded their entire A220 fleet amid engine concerns

Paradoxically, this should make you feel safer, not less safe. The A220 has had zero accidents. Grounding it is not a sign that the airframe is very unsafe, but a sign that the industry takes safety very seriously and is willing to ground fleets for relatively minor safety issues.

The airworthiness directives you quote are several years old. There were minor issues with the A220, which have been addressed and fixed.

Can you say the same about any minor issues that your car may have developed? Have you inspected every hinge and every bearing on a strict schedule to make sure that problems are caught before they ever happen?

To put things in perspective, the most dangerous airplane you could have booked a flight on in recent memory was the 737 MAX before it was grounded following two major accidents. In that time, it flew about half a million flights, so the accident rate was 4 per million flights. The average flight for this plane is a little over 1000 miles, so on average you could have flown on this most dangerous of planes for 250 million miles before being in an accident.

By comparison, Americans drive about 11 billion miles a day, with an average of around 120 fatal crashes every day. In other words, you can drive less than 100 million miles without being involved in a fatal accident.

So the most dangerous plane, a plane that was so dangerous that it wasn't allowed to fly for two years, was still 2.5 times safer than driving. The A220 is much, much safer than the 737 MAX was.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your answer, but most (all?) of the road crashes are due to negligent behavior of the driver, not because of some technical issues in a properly mantained car. (Yes, I know, autopilot of the famous car ... wasn't the manufacturer stating in the instructions book that you had to mantain awareness on your car behavior? let's differentiate between marketing comunications and engineering for the sake of this statistics, although they both belong to the technical aspects of ... selling a product) $\endgroup$
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 21, 2023 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ "The airworthiness directives you quote are several years old. There were minor issues with the A220, which have been addressed and fixed." Unfortunately, this is not correct. The GTF issues are ongoing and, as the article in the OP from just a few months ago mentions, over 1,000 aircraft will be taken out of service for a while over the next few years for engine inspections related to these issues. Personally, I have absolutely zero qualms about flying on a GTF-powered aircraft, but it's not accurate to say that the issues have been resolved. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 21, 2023 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @EarlGrey Very true. But whether it's a technical issue or a negligent driver doesn't help me if a negligent driver crashes into me. It's plausible that a competent defensive driver in a well-maintained car is safer than a passenger of a pre-grounding 737 MAX. It's less plausible that any driver is safer than a passenger in another airliner that is some 100 times safer. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Dec 21, 2023 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab The ADs referred to are years old, and what I mean when I say they have been resolved. The first article seems to be referring more to supply chain/maintenance issues, where planes are having to be grounded for long turn-around times. The second article I grant is not about issues that have been resolved- but any plane that doesn't have the required inspections is grounded so I don't see how it's a safety issue. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Dec 21, 2023 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Scorb Airliner engines can and do get replace periodically, so their failure rate / lifespan is different to that of the fuselage. Therefore it is sometimes important to refer to the airframe rather than the 'plane. And sometimes its just a word choice... $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Dec 22, 2023 at 9:40
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How will you be getting to the airport? Flying in an airliner with a relatively poor safety record is still orders of magnitude safer than traveling by car, for example. – Frog

Driving in a car – Jim
emphasis added

Exactly Frog's point!

Even with the relatively poor record of the PW1500, it's still going to be orders of magnitude safer than your journey from home to the airport by car. (Or by car from the destination airport to final destination.)

Since you're willing to put your life in the hands of other drivers of unknown training and ability and levels of distraction cough cell phones cough, driving vehicles with totally unknown maintenance history to get to the airport, you probably shouldn't be worried about putting your life in the hands of well trained pilots flying a well maintained aircraft even though the engines have a known issue that is in the process of being corrected.

While I don't know the deadline for meeting the ADs on this engine, at least some of them have probably had the appropriate actions taken, meaning that your chances of flying in an aircraft with a problem are lower than they were prior to the issuance of the ADs.

Knowing that the issue exists and knowing likely causes of the issue will help the pilots avoid the situations that could exacerbate the issue. Remember, they all want to arrive alive, too.

Of course, you could always cancel the flight and drive all the way to your destination. You seem happy with those risks...

TL;DR: There is every reason you should not be afraid of flying on Friday, but there's probably roughly zero we can say to convince you of it. That's kinda how irrational fears work.

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    $\begingroup$ Re: helping people get over fears of the safety of flying: The youtube comments sections of videos from pilots like 74gear and MentourPilot are full of people saying that learning more about aviation helped them get over their fears. (Usually that wasn't a specific concern about a specific engine, but I'm guessing the OP has some general fear of flying). Seeing how much has to go wrong for something bad to actually happen is reassuring, and the fact that when an incident happens, procedures and hardware change to make it less likely to happen again. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2023 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ Also, incidents where pilots were able to save a damaged plane should instill confidence: even an uncontained engine failure (of one of two engines on the plane) is going to make the flight exciting (tiny chance) but probably most of the passengers and crew will still survive. Planes are pretty robust; a lot can fail and still be landable. (Uncontained engine failure sending fan or prop blades into the cabin is super bad, though.) $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2023 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Fair points, @PeterCordes, however fear of flying (among other phobias) are generally irrational (as all the rational arguments point out), and no amount of rational though will help some people. Yes, some can be helped, but not all... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 21, 2023 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ Part of the "fear of flying" is also "fear of not being in control" or "not being the driver" You're putting trust in someone else's ability to control a vehicle. Probably this whole post has a parallel question on psychology.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Dec 22, 2023 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveBennett The Airbus 220 has had zero losses. Technically that makes it infinitely better. :) Practically, we can calculate the worst-case odds, assuming an A220 will crash the very next minute - and you're still looking way better on the plane. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Dec 22, 2023 at 10:41
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If the FAA issued and AD, and the airplane is continuing to fly at this point, that means that the operator is in compliance with the corrective fix listed in the AD. As to your safety on that flight, you will not find a safer way to travel than on a Part 121 scheduled air carrier flight.

Keep in mind a recall does not necessarily mean a dangerous or defective item is currently in use, provided the operator applies the corrective fix recommended by the manufacturer. Cars are constantly recalled by manufacturers. Typically all that’s involved is the installation of a repair kit that remedies whatever potential safety issue(s) exists. Likewise, aircraft manufacturers have service engineering groups, which identify an address potential safety risks in their products before problem occurs.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point on the automotive recalls! When a CAA issues an AD, it's mandatory that the item be fixed. When a car manufacturer issues a recall, they might not even be able to notify every affected vehicle's owner, and even if they do, it's entirely optional for the owners to bring the vehicle in to get it fixed. I've looked at used cars to purchase and discovered 3 or 4 outstanding recall issues on them, and these vehicles had been on the road on a daily basis just weeks prior. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 21, 2023 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ The JetBlue plane I’m flying on today is 1 month old. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2023 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ If the airplane is one month old, it’s probably still gonna have a new car smell. You’ll be fine. Trust me. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2023 at 16:01
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One way to view this conundrum is to view the risk/reward profile of the situation.

Is there risk involved? Yes.

Is there more risk involved than most other things you do every day? Probably not.

Is there more reward in going on your trip than staying home? That's up to you to decide. But unless you literally stay at home and board up the doors and windows, you will likely be exposed to more risks than flying on that aircraft. And even if you do stay at home and board up the doors and windows, you risk death by being trapped by a fire. Or carbon monoxide poisoning. Or food poisoning. Or electric shock. Or crushed by a falling ceiling fan. Or breaking your spine falling down a flight of stairs (which happened to a friend of mine). You get the idea.

Another question to ask yourself is why you know so much about the specific engines in the aircraft being used for that trip. Most commercial passengers have no idea what aircraft they will be traveling in, nor have any idea what engines are affixed to those aircraft. This suggests either you're involved in the aviation industry or you're possibly dealing with a painful anxiety issue. If it's the former, you know how relatively safe properly maintained commercial jumbo jets are compared to most other modes of transportation. If it's the latter, I compassionately mention that treatments are likely available.

(I say this with particular compassion because, when I was young, I once freaked out - for no obvious reason at the time - on the way to an airport to board an aircraft. It was a terrifying experience, so I know the pain firsthand.)

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At the moment I'm writing this, there are about 120 Airbus A220 in the air:

enter image description here

There is nothing particular about today. This happens every day, there 100+ A220 in the air pretty much all day long. So 10,000+ persons fly in an A220 each day, every day. And the A220 has been involved in a grand total of zero accidents. Feels pretty safe to me.

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What is the reasonable worst case you expect?

If the engine is reputed for having infrequent mechanical failures, you are talking about a single-engine failure. That is a scenario pilots actively train for and procedures are designed for.

For instance, during takeoff there is a callout at a pre-calculated decision point: prior to that, you respond to a single-engine failure by stopping, after it you take off anyway on the single engine, then return to the airport. This isn't luck and and prayer; it is all designed, calculated and planned ahead. The procedure is a memory item meaning the pilot must prove they know it by heart to keep their type rating, and demonstrate it in full motion simulators. And single engine failure is frequently tested.

They have also trained out many of the common mistakes made in this procedure, such as shutting down the wrong engine or failing to deal with differential thrust.

So you might just lean into your imagined failure scenario and see just how bad it isn't.

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    $\begingroup$ This is true for normal engine failures, but you missed the key word "uncontained" (and "damage to the aeroplane"). High-RPM rotating parts have a lot of kinetic energy, but the engine housing is designed to contain that even if a fan blade cracks due to metal fatigue or bird strike or whatever. (Containment is part of engine certification.) An uncontained engine failure can involve a fan or turbine blade being thrown out towards the fuselage or wing at high speed, and this AD specifically calls out the possibility of damage to the plane. That's cause for rational concern and digging deeper $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2023 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ e.g. forbes.com/sites/danielreed/2018/04/17/… is a 2018 story about an uncontained engine failure that killed one passenger on a SouthWest flight. That article describes it as "The Worst Thing That Can Happen To A Jet In Flight", which is somewhat hyperbolic. (e.g. elevator or aileron physically stuck at max deflection make a crash inevitable, like the pitch-trim jack-screw in the MD-83 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Airlines_Flight_261) $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2023 at 8:48

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