Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker's surprise revelation at the Farnborough airshow that "issues” with the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan engine had blocked an order for as many as 90 Bombardier C Series jets at the show seemed the last thing P&W needed at a critical time for the engine program.
Al Baker declined to elaborate, but added that he hoped that the problem “could be resolved soon.” His statement inevitably raised questions about the new technology P&W hopes to deliver to the next generation of single-aisle equipment, either re-engined or all new.
The geared fan technology does not in itself present a problem, however. “There are sensitive commercial issues,” said Al Baker. These might revolve around skepticism that P&W can indeed deliver on its claimed 20-percent saving in maintenance costs and the associated guarantees. Pratt & Whitney has been trying to convince the market that gearing the turbofan de-stresses the engine so much that it can deliver even better reliability than today's turbofans; unfortunately for Pratt, it appears not all the airlines believe it.
However, the “issue” might be no more than a screen for Al Baker's real agenda–to wait and see whether Airbus and/or Boeing launch re-engined versions of their respective narrowbodies. At the show, he revealed that he had not ruled out that option. “If they bring an aircraft superior to the C Series in terms of seat-mile, maintenance and lower fuel burn, we'd think about it,” he said. There would still be a market for the C Series, he added. “It won't kill the program, but I would worry for them.”
Of course, P&W might just have to defend a case for higher engine pricing based on claimed lower operating costs. The engine manufacturer told AIN at the show that any skepticism “would go away once they go through the data.” A spokesman for the company added that “we're talking to [Qatar] and to Bombardier and we're continuing to work to see if we can bring the order home.”