Bernstein Research on April 13 issued a research note that is one of the best side-by-side comparisons we’ve seen about the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan and the CFM International LEAP-X.

Bernstein’s aerospace team, led by Douglas Harned, laid out pros and cons of both engines in a succinct, bullet-pointed format. As an independent third party with no axe to grind and no favorites to play, we think his report is a must-read by everyone who can get their hands on it.

We’re not able to post or link the report 17 page report due to Bernstein policy—the main number is 212-756-4400 and see if Bernstein will provide a copy (unlikely if you’re not already a client). But here are some of the salient points:

  • On the A320neo, we believe that Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan (GTF or PW1100G) is advantaged over CFM’s (GE, Safran) LEAP-X if it can execute well with a clearer path to further improvements and the fact that its technology appears more mature at this stage. Should Pratt succeed with the GTF, there is the potential for the geared engine architecture to play a major role in multiple future engines over the long term. The GTF was selected by Airbus as lead engine and has won all three customer selections to date (ILFC, IndiGo, Lufthansa). But, we see the coming decisions by all-CFM Virgin America and AirAsia as more important indicators. (Bold face is Bernstein’s.)
  • Pratt’s GTF. The most controversial aspect of this engine is the gear. But, although the gear was a concern earlier in the development process, we are not seeing it as a major issue for potential customers. The GTF should have the benefit of an upgrade path by going to higher gear ratios, as well as higher temperatures and pressures using the GTF architecture. We do not believe that the same upgrade path is present on the LEAP-X. The most important issue we see is Pratt & Whitney’s ability to deliver on conventional aspects of the engine, as many airlines have memories of the troubled PW6000 program. The GTF is also farther along than the LEAP-X, with the first C-Series engine now out of test and planning for Q3 flight testing.
  • CFM’s LEAP-X. The approach to performance improvement for CFM has been to raise the bypass ratio by moving to higher temperatures and pressures. This move is supported by a switch to new, more advanced materials. A key application of new materials will be the use of ceramic matrix composite (CMC) blades in turbines for the LEAP-X. It appears that these blades are now to be ready to go into service in 2020 (we understand that this slipped from 2018). This timing is four years after the engine should be service. Our concern is that greater cooling requirements will reduce performance and higher temperatures will reduce blade life on the early engines. The LEAP-X is also at an earlier development stage than the GTF with design freeze planned at the end of 2011 and “core 3” to be completed in mid-2012. The flying test bed is scheduled for Q3 2013.
  • We expect Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan to be the preferred engine on the if the company executes well.
  • We see CFM positioning LEAP-X as the lower risk alternative. CFM must convince customers that will be better than the GTF even through the LEAP-X has more stages and, hence, more moving parts.

 

There is much more to the Note, of course, but these excerpts are probably at the limit of the fair use doctrine.

With respect to the last point, Bernstein seeing CFM positioning itself as lower risk and greater vs. the GTF, recent CFM advertising (which is always very good, by the way) indeed is emphasizing this. We’ve also talked to potential customers who have noted that CFM’s messaging to them is about risk and reliability instead of emphasis on vs. the GTF. We’ve previously noted that we are hearing from people who’ve seen the numbers of both engines that the GTF has a 2%-4% advantage over the LEAP-X.

Another interesting aspect to the Bernstein note: Contrary to Airbus assertions and hopes for a price premium, Bernstein writes:

“We do not expect Airbus or the engine OEMs to get price premiums for their next generation products. Instead we expect the prices of existing equipment to drop. We understand that deals being discussed now on engines have pricing that his not very different from pricing on current generation engines.”

We know from talking with an insider that Boeing is concerned that NEO won’t be sold for price premiums.

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