The downturn in demand in some of its markets has not dented the ardor of engine maker Pratt & Whitney for developing new technology. “We have to be ready for the upturn,” said the U.S. company’s new president, David Hess. “We have to keep people focused on the great future of Pratt & Whitney, positioning ourselves for a strong recovery.”
Hess conceded that the first quarter of this year has been “rough” and said he has to be “very careful” with how research-and-development money is spent. But he indicated that work on preparing a second-generation of Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan engines is a priority and that talks are under way with airframers about prospective applications for them.
“We are absolutely convinced that the geared turbofan is the right technological platform,” Hess told AIN. “We have had good results from flight testing and the test data validates the benefits of the engine [see page 8].”
Cessna’s recent and surprising decision to put development of its new Columbus business jet on ice was a setback for Pratt & Whitney Canada, which has spent significant time preparing the PW810 engine to power the aircraft. “We were disappointed,” said Hess, “but we are not slowing down on it because [the engine] was just one application of the PurePower family, which has the same core as the geared turbofan for the MRJ [Mitsubishi Regional Jet] and [Bombardier’s] C Series. So we are chasing other business jet applications and even military applications.” He pointed out that in recent times Pratt & Whitney has certified roughly five new engines per year and said it intends to continue new product development at this pace.
The big picture is that overall engine deliveries are actually slightly higher so far this year, largely due to continued high rates of output on the military side of Pratt & Whitney’s business because deliveries of commercial airliner engines are “fairly flat” and there has been a marked downturn in the business jet market.
“We now have our arms around [the downturn],” said Hess. “We seem to be stabilizing, albeit it at a very low level after the rapid pace [of decline in demand] during the fourth quarter [of 2008] and the first quarter [of 2009]. We have understood how we need to restructure to mitigate the effects [of the recession].
Pratt & Whitney delivered more than 4,000 engines last year. Until the financial crisis hit, it had expected this figure to rise to around 5,000 units this year but is now looking at a total below 3,500 for 2009.
The engine maker (Hall 5 Stand B20-30) believes it is “inevitable” that there will be a further reduction in commercial airliner output later this year. That said, Hess indicated that he expects to be announcing several new contract wins from this market over the next six months.
But about 25 percent of Pratt & Whitney’s business comes from military customers, a part of the business that is still growing somewhat. For instance, deliveries of F100 engines are increasing due to demand for F-15 and F-16 fighters. “We also have a big presence on the F-35,” said Hess. “The issues with the third-stage turbine are behind us and the engine [the F135] is performing well. We have done hover pit testing for the STVOL and the thrust was one percent more than the requirements.
We’ve completed more than 100 flight tests on the F-35 and haven’t had a single engine issue.”
Looking to the future, Hess indicated that Pratt & Whitney’s partnerships through International Aero Engines for the V2500 on the Airbus A320 family and the Engine Alliance for the A380’s GP7000 turbofans could continue beyond those programs. As former president of Pratt & Whitney’s sister company Hamilton Sundstrand, he said their United Technologies parent is determined that the engine maker and the systems supplier continue to leverage their respective technical capabilities in order to capture more content in response to General Electric’s acquisition of the former Smiths Aerospace businesses.