Singapore Air Show

P&W prepares to powernew single-aisle airliners

 - December 6, 2006, 10:10 AM

Since its rejection from the Boeing 787 engine contest in April 2004 Pratt & Whitney has had to face up to a harsh new reality–that for the foreseeable future the U.S.’s most venerable engine manufacturer is effectively out of the huge market for the new medium twins from Airbus and Boeing–the A350 and 787. But behind the apparent setback at the hands of arch-rivals Rolls-Royce and General Electric lies the emergence of a newly structured Pratt & Whitney, which is aiming to be in better shape than ever to face the future.

When it was fighting for a position on the Boeing 787, Pratt & Whitney had been told by its parent United Technologies not to sell out at any cost in order to win the program. P&W was offering an all-new powerplant, with its attendant risks, which would have tied up vast company resources, not just in development but also in the cut-throat early financing deals with airlines necessary to beat the competition. Today, free of that burden, Pratt is moving quickly forward.

Talking to Aviation International News, P&W commercial engines president Steve Heath painted a fascinating picture of where Pratt is heading today. “My priority is to keep the fleet flying while preparing for the next generation of single-aisle programs,” he said.

“This is where we started in the civil engine business–with the JT8D, which gave us 70 percent of the pre-widebody aircraft market,” he pointed out. “We built our commercial foundation on it. Then we went into widebodies with the JT9D and PW4000 and developed the PW2000 for the Boeing 757. But we took our eye off the ball when it came to the replacement for the JT8D.”

The result was that Pratt was very nearly totally left out of the burgeoning 150-seat market. Eventually, in 1983, it became part of the International Aero Engines collaboration with Japanese Aero Engines, MTU and Rolls-Royce, securing a place for the V2500 on the Airbus A320–but not the New Generation Boeing 737. IAE has now seen more than 2,600 V2500s delivered and ordered.

IAE Partnership Could Change

Heath said IAE is the “preferred route to market” for the engine that will power the eventual A320/Boeing 737 replacements, but hinted that the shape of the collaboration could change, depending on agreements yet to be forged among potential future partners. He left no doubt that the current arrangement, while it has proved a useful revenues earner for P&W, needs to change. “We have a one-third share in an engine that competes with the CFM56 to power the A320, which is in competition with the Boeing 737. That gives us approximately seven percent of the V2500, which is not where we want to be on the next engine.

“My position is that we’ll be a supplier of engines for the next generation of 100- to 200-seaters, for which there will be a requirement for at least 25,000 engines, or around 73 percent of commercial aircraft delivered.” Collaboration will be central to the theme, “but this time we have to make sure we’re on both aircraft,” he said.

Hopes for recovering its JT8D legacy are based on the geared turbofan (GTF) demonstrator (see box), ground demonstrations of which are set to begin in 2007 using the PW6000 core. Flight tests will follow in 2008, paving the way for a go-ahead decision on a production powerplant.

The GTF concept has already been successfully proven by P&W’s Canadian cousin, Pratt & Whitney Canada, which ran its Advanced Technology Fan Integrator at 12,500 pounds thrust in 2001. The two are working with European engine companies Fiat and MTU on gearbox and low-pressure turbine and high-pressure compressor technology respectively.

Heath admitted there is some risk attached to the concept of using a gearbox to reduce fan speed to the optimum. “If for some reason there is a development problem, or the airlines don’t like it, we’ll go with an advanced turbofan, using technology we’re developing in programs such as the joint technology demonstrator program. Whatever happens, we’ll be there.”

As for powering the big twins, Heath said, “We’re not going to jump back into that market.” P&W’s only offering is the PW4000 powering the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 twins, both of which will eventually lose market share to the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

PW4000 Upgrade Announced

The PW4000 continues in development, however, and Heath revealed that a major upgrade program called Advantage 08 has just been approved. Aimed at service entry in 2008, the program will, said Heath, provide a 20-percent reduction in operating costs for the PW4000 powering the A330. “Our markets tell us the A330 is a very good aircraft and we really like the A330 freighter. We’re also optimistic about the KC330 tanker.”

Asked about the potential for China to get into the civil engine business, Heath said, “before we talk total engines, China has to demonstrate the kind of quality control and capability necessary to build a world-class product.” He admitted, however, that “with the kind of expansion they’re talking about it is inevitable that they will be looking for a total engine capability some day. Engine services are already going that way.”

U.S. manufacturers, such as P&W, that have national strategic importance, face difficulties sharing their expertise with China. “A lot of things are controlled by politics,” concluded Heath.