Airtime Blog

The What, When And Why Of Helicopter Engine Washes

By PRATT & WHITNEY CUSTOMER SERVICE
March 31, 2019 | Helicopters, Maintenance, Performance | 3 min read
As India strives to keep pace with surging demand for air travel, P&W is ensuring operators there get the support they need, from major hubs to regional airports.

THE WORLD’S FASTEST-GROWING DOMESTIC AVIATION MARKET

With air travel becoming more affordable and the spending power of its middle-class increasing, India’s aviation industry is booming. The number of domestic air travellers increased from 60 million at the end of 2013 to almost 140 million by the end of 2018. Last year alone, the domestic market grew by 18%—the highest figure in the world, well ahead of second-placed China (11.7%).

Can India sustain this pace? According to P&W’s Nirmalkumar Chandramouli, Country Manager – India, Strategy & Business Development, the recent growth is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of passengers per capita still falls well short of other major nations. Given India’s huge population spread across the entire sub-continent, there remains vast untapped potential in this market, which the government is seeking to activate through its Regional Connectivity Scheme, UDAN, aimed at making air travel more accessible.
With a dirty compressor, the engine will run faster and hotter, increasing fuel consumption and accelerating hot section deterioration.
Pat DiRico, P&WC Customer Engineering, Turboshaft Engines
For engines with automatic cycle counting, there will also be a higher than expected cycle count increase, since the electronic control system uses engine speed and temperature to calculate the number of cycles.

Washing is a simple, cost-effective way to restore compressor efficiency and lower fuel consumption—not to mention reducing corrosion due to sulfidation, enhancing time on wing, increasing the lifespan of hot section parts, restoring engine turbine temperature margins and reducing consumption of low cycle fatigue (LCF) components.
A helicopter engine being washed to restore performance and reduce the possibility of corrosion.

2. WHEN WASHING SHOULD BE DONE

To keep your engine in optimal condition, regular washing is advised. The applicable engine maintenance manuals provide the recommended intervals for all types of engine washes. However, Pat notes that these represent the minimum and may not always be enough.
P&WC recommends scheduling an interval based on your operational experience. You may want to increase the frequency, especially if engine performance deteriorates too much between your scheduled washes. When in doubt, it’s better to wash more often rather than not enough.
Pat DiRico, P&WC Customer Engineering, Turboshaft Engines
In the past, harsh detergents were used for engine cleaning. However, thanks to changes in health, safety and environmental standards, today’s soaps are milder. Cleaning often with soap is definitely better than waiting until the compressor becomes encrusted with dirt. “In short, it is easier to keep a compressor clean than it is to clean a dirty compressor,” says Pat.

If you have questions on how to optimize your engine wash schedule, contact your P&WC Field Support Representative or the CFirst Centre.

3. WHAT KIND OF WASHES SHOULD BE DONE

There are four types of engine wash typically done in the field: engine desalination (rinse), engine compressor performance recovery wash, compressor turbine (CT) wash and external engine wash.

For engine desalination, a water solution is used to rinse off salt deposits and light dirt from the compressor and gas path area.
There is a tremendous opportunity for aviation in India. I believe we will hit 500 million travellers per year in the next decade, if the required ecosystem is in place to sustain this level of growth. And if the industry does grow by a factor of three, we will need three times more aircraft.
Nirmalkumar Chandramouli, Country Manager – India, Strategy & Business Development
First and foremost, India needs more airports, says Nirmalkumar. “Every airport in India is operating over capacity,” he remarks. When Bangalore opened a greenfield airport ten years ago, it surpassed its long-term passenger target of 10 million in just three years. Within less than five years, it had launched its first expansion to create additional capacity; today, the airport handles roughly 25 million passengers on a yearly basis. The story is similar elsewhere.

Many more airports have been revived and some notable greenfield airports have opened during the past decade. These present challenges of various kinds. Recently opened Pakyong Airport in the northern state of Sikkim, for instance, is a greenfield site located at 4,500 feet. The operating environment, including frequent mists, makes establishing reliable service an issue.

According to Nirmalkumar, despite new airports being added, another key issue faced by airlines today is the non-availability of parking slots in both metro and non-metro airports. This leads to slots for newer flights only being offered during off-peak times that are not very popular with travellers.
At present, operators cannot deploy their assets in the most efficient way, so that is something that needs to change. Other issues like India’s shortage of pilots and challenges relating to financing also need to be addressed. But once the infrastructure and resources are in place, there will be scope for almost unimaginable growth.
Nirmalkumar Chandramouli, Country Manager –India, Strategy & Business Development
P&W is well represented in India, where the short-haul market is dominated by the ATR 72 and Bombardier Q400, respectively powered by PW127M and PW150A engines. The country’s P&W fleet stands at around 1,400 engines and auxiliary power units, including regional turboprops for airlines such as Alliance Air, IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and TruJet.

“Engine reliability and availability are always important, especially at remote or greenfield airports where you don’t always have the infrastructure or personnel in place,” notes Nirmalkumar. “Thanks to their inherent reliability and our experienced support team, our engines are in top-notch condition, and that’s backed up by our comprehensive maintenance plans and aftermarket services.”

Support is provided through dedicated in-region field support representatives (FSRs), who work closely with P&W’s Asia-Pacific service hub in Singapore. What’s more, all P&W airline customers in India are on pay-per-hour plans that help them schedule maintenance and manage their costs more effectively.

Another increasingly popular option for regional aircraft is the FAST™ solution, which provides operators with actionable insights into engine health by capturing and wirelessly transmitting a host of full-flight data on key parameters after each flight, along with propeller vibration trend monitoring. Nirmalkumar reckons that with key operators already adopting FAST, the majority of P&W’s Indian fleet will be equipped with this diagnostic and prognostic technology in the near future.

As the India aviation market continues its rapid growth, P&W is poised to take whatever steps are required to ensure operators have the right support—whether that’s at a major Tier 1 hub or a new high-altitude airport like Pakyong Airport.