Finger on the pulse of Pratt’s global position

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 14, 2006, 10:58 AM

Recently appointed Pratt & Whitney president Steve Finger is in no doubt about his company’s position in the global marketplace. “The Eagle is everywhere,” he said. “We’re the only engine manufacturer with a complete portfolio spanning civil, military, business and rocket engines along with maintenance, repair and overhaul.” The Eagle refers to the defining symbol of the U.S.’s oldest turbine aircraft engines manufacturer.

Finger joined–or more correctly re-joined–Pratt & Whitney in March after a three-year stint at Sikorsky Aircraft which he says gave him a “fresh perspective” on the need to be responsive to the market. With record sales of $9.3 billion in 2005, projected to rise to more than $10 billion this year, he has good reason to be bullish and rejects comprehensively any accusation that P&W might be losing its manufacturing preeminence following the failure of its bid to power the Boeing 787 and development difficulties with the PW6000 Airbus A318 engine.

“We’re one of the lead partners with International Aero Engines on the V2500, and with General Electric on the GP7200,” he pointed out. “We’re focused on listening to the customer, and providing engines with lower fuel burn and reduced noise and emissions. Our work on the geared turbofan [GTF] is game-changing.”

Pratt & Whitney produced 2,500 new engines last year and overhauled more than 2,000, and its MRO business now accounts for around 50 percent of revenues. On the military side, Finger pointed to the fact that Pratt & Whitney powers more than half of U.S. military fighters, has the lead position on the F-135 engine for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and is close to delivery of the first in-service F-119 engine powering the F-22 fighter.

In business jet engines, Pratt & Whitney Canada has, said Finger, cornered the market for very light jets with its PW600. And on the helicopter side, it has made what he described as “giant steps” in developing the PW210S, planned to power the Sikorsky S-76D after certification in mid-2008.

MRO for commercial engines–both for its own products and those of its competitors–is now worth more than $2 billion a year to Pratt & Whitney. One of the more controversial aspects of the company’s growing MRO portfolio is Global Material Solutions (GMS), the business formed specifically to manufacture spares for competing CFM56-3 engines for United Airlines.

“GMS is a classic case of listening to the customer,” he insisted. “It’s the first time an OEM has done this, and I want to say we’re not just copying. We’re bringing our best technology to the engine. We’re 100 percent dedicated to delivering quality parts to customers.”

Finger revealed that Pratt & Whitney is “talking to customers about the possibility of other opportunities” but declined to be specific as to which competitor engine might be next on the list for the P&W treatment. “We believe we’ll see more customers for the CFM56-3 before long,” he predicted. “GMS is part of our strategic portfolio. Several years ago we decided to be both an OEM and an MRO for other engines–that was when we bought the Braathens CFM56 operation. In five years we’ve developed more than 3,000 repairs for the CFM56.”

As far as its future as an OEM is concerned, Finger said there are two elements. “You have to have a product that has a definite advantage or capability in the marketplace, and there has to be a business case. Both of these things must work together,” he told Aviation International News. Partnerships are one way of achieving this, he said. “With IAE and the Engine Alliance we bring together the unique capabilities of the partners to offer a differentiating product.”

The example of current major interest is the geared turbofan. “We have a clear differentiating advantage,” claimed Finger. “We’re prepared to do GTF alone, but IAE–or some version of it–is our preferred choice for the route to market. If we can provide a better product for customers and a better cost structure then the business model can work.”

Finger agrees that today the talk is of how the aviation industry will meet ever-tougher environmental demands, but insisted that the industry has a good track record. “The problem is that the industry isn’t getting its message across,” he argued, insisting that Pratt & Whitney itself has made “huge improvements” through initiatives such as the new Talon combustor. “Our view is that the magnitude of improvements that have been made in past years must continue as aggressively as it has for the last 30 years,” he said.

The new Pratt & Whitney boss also pointed to developments such as the EcoPower on-wing engine washing system, which uses water instead of toxic chemicals, and moves to remove toxic metals from such as cadmium, chrome and lead from engines. “We have also reduced the energy it takes to manufacture an engine by 30 percent in the last five years and we’re making sure they are retired in a nonpolluting fashion,” he added.

Finger stated that the GTF, due to begin ground tests in the third quarter of next year, will bring “huge reductions” in noise and a 12-percent lower fuel burn. “I’m so excited about it that I’m looking to accelerate the program,” he said. “The customer today can’t get to lower fuel burn quickly enough.”   

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