Hess Readies Pratt for ‘Tough Sledding’

 - April 22, 2013, 1:07 PM
Pratt & Whitney CEO David Hess addresses members of the press at his company’s annual ‘Media Day,’ held this year in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: Pratt & Whitney)

Pratt & Whitney CEO David Hess doesn’t spend time lamenting his company’s decision to forgo a bid for a place on Boeing’s proposed 777X. In fact, in an interview with AIN during the company’s April 11 “Media Day” in West Palm Beach, Florida, Hess expressed not an inkling of regret, evidently taking comfort in the narrowbody market’s virtually unequivocal acceptance of his company’s Geared Turbofan.

“Our plate’s pretty full right now,” said Hess. “We’ve got five new development programs and we want to make sure that we execute them perfectly and don’t overstretch ourselves right now.”

Hess said he sees a few years of “tough sledding” as the company launches production and eventually enacts rate hikes, while it waits until the end of the decade to reap any returns from aftermarket activity. Happily for the CEO, the company appears to have built a solid foundation on which to reap those rewards.

Having won positions on the Bombardier CSeries, Mitsubishi MRJ, Airbus A320neo, Irkut MC-21 and, most recently, Embraer’s planned second generation of E-Jets, the PurePower Geared Turbofan line has completely revived a company that a decade ago became better known for the well documented missteps associated with the PW6000 than as an organization steeped in any history of producing “dependable engines.”

Although at the time Hess served as CEO of fellow United Technologies subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand, he could see as well as anyone the depths to which the company’s commercial aircraft engine business had sunk.

“It was a train wreck, quite honestly,” said Hess. “But it was also a significant emotional event for Pratt and a great learning experience.”

Hess explained that the experience moved the company to completely revamp its engineering “process” to ensure a level of technological readiness in the Geared Turbofan not seen in the case of the PW6000, for example.

“They established a rigorous process for developing and introducing innovation and new technology,” said Hess. “And they’ve stuck to that discipline and that rigor over the last ten years as they’ve brought forward that technology.”

The transformation started with a commitment to “up-front” investment in the now 20-year-old concept that became known as the Geared Turbofan. In all, the company has spent some $1 billion in research and development, but, perhaps more significantly, “hundreds of millions of dollars” in the five years leading to the demonstrator’s first flight on an Airbus A340 testbed in 2008.

“So we changed the engineering process and in some cases we changed people,” explained Hess. “And we invested more money earlier in the program than we had done historically, rather than do it once the development program is launched…We developed the technology first, offered it to the marketplace and then did product development. So it really was a fundamental change in the process.”