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May 29, 2024
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With Boeing choosing to proceed with a re-engine for the 737, Pratt & Whitney is out of luck. The exclusive supplier contract between Boeing and CFM means CFM retains the re-engining rights to the airplane.

Last March, Mike Bair, VP for future programs for the 737, told us the contract with CFM did allow for the prospect of switching engines. A competing engine had to have better economics and the commercial terms had to be better than the technical details and commercial terms offered by CFM, which had the right to match or exceed those offered by a competitor. Boeing’s assessment of the CFM LEAP, PW P1000G Geared Turbo Fan and the Rolls-Royce RB282/285 were that economics were about equal. Naturally Bair would not comment on commercial terms.

That CFM is the engine choice for the 737 MAX is no surprise; it was theirs to lose. PW all along figured it had little chance of participating in a re-engine scenario and RR bowed out of this game a year April with Boeing or Airbus.

But for Pratt, the market realities don’t end there.

Boeing and GE have an exclusive supplier’s agreement for the 777-300ER (and the 777-200LR) which likely precludes the prospect of PW developing an engine for the 777X. Indeed, the discussion we hear both through our own sources and through others with their own sources is that Boeing is talking with GE about a variant of the GEnx that powers the 787 and 747-8. The engine would have to be upsized to the 100,000-110,000 lb thrust class. PW’s GTF can grow to 110,000 lbs but if Boeing and GE are married, then what about Airbus?

We thought the prospect of a GTF for the A350 family, particularly for the A350-1000, might be a good alternative engine to the RR Trent XWB under development. But with Airbus and RR announcing an exclusive supplier agreement for the A350-1000 at the Paris Air Show, kiss this opportunity good bye.

Can PW develop an engine for the A350-800/900 which doesn’t appear to be covered by an exclusive agreement? Certainly, in theory. But not for some time. PW said it’s not interested in a large-class engine for many years, concentrating instead on the A320neo family.

So what’s left?

A real long-shot might be a prospective re-engine of the A330, which is aging. Although the A330 got a second life as a result of the 787 delays and has proved to be a remarkably resilient and efficient aircraft—particularly with Airbus extending the range of the A330-200 to as much as 7,200nm—Boeing is planning a 787-10 derivative aimed squarely at the A330-300 and counting on once the 787 finally enters service, the life of the A330-200 will be limited.

The CEO of AirAsia is pressing Airbus to re-engine the A330. So far, at least in public, there is no interest from Airbus—but Airbus also downplayed the prospect of re-engining the A320 for two years.

A re-engined A330 with a GTF is an interesting prospect, as this column as written before. The A330 is larger than the 787 and can carry more passengers and cargo. If Airbus could shave 10%-12% off the fuel burn—and thereby extend the range of the -200 and the -300 by another 500nm (roughly the amount the neo adds to the baseline A320), this would be an interesting airplane indeed.

And it would be the only realistic new opportunity for PW to extend its GTF technology beyond the 70-200 seat markets any time in the foreseeable future.

23 thoughts on “Pratt & Whitney’s dilemma

  1. Tony Fernandes’ enthusiasm notwithstanding, a couple of questions.

    1. Where is the advantage in taking an airframe designed in the 1980’s and slapping a new engine on it? Fuel is a significant cost of course, but there are maintenance, depreciation, and residual values to consider. Depending on when a putative A330X could be introduced, it might have the resale value of salmonella infested ground turkey.

    2. Airbus has its hands full with the A350 and NEO programs. Would it be prudent to divert resources away from those programs for a derivative effort? Would the market even justify it?

    3. How long would it take for P&W to come up with a derivative of the GTF to power the putative A330X? (or A330RE. We’re in uncharted territory nomenclature-wise here). Is the potential market large enough to justify the investment? …Tony Fernandes notwithstanding of course.

    4. Wouldn’t this effort cannibalize certain A350XWB sales from loyal Airbus operators, such as the aforementioned Tony Fernandes?

    5. Finally, didn’t Airbus try something like this before, such as the A350 V1 thru V3 (or whatever, I lost count)?

    BTW, can the A330-200 carry more cargo than the 787-8?

  2. Oh, we gotta have a little fun with this one.

    1. Well, let’s see: Boeing took an airframe that was designed in the 1950s (which is where the 737 design truly came from) and slapped new engines on it not once (737 Classic) but now twice (737 MAX), not counting all the derivative engines in between. Airbus took an airframe designed in the 1980s (A320) and slapped new engines on it. Hmm.

    Getting back to serious.

    Both Boeing and Airbus argued there would not be RV impact until RE deliveries hit 50% of the installed base, well down the road.

    2. Good question. Same was true for Boeing on 787 and 748 programs vs. NSA or RE. RE won.

    3. No data. But the nice thing about being a pontificator: we don’t always have to have the answers. We can simply pontificate.

    4. Perhaps. Airbus argued, however, that the A330-200/300 fill different missions than the super long-range A350 due to their shorter ranges (though an A330-200 with 7,700nm range is more problematic to the 8,500 nm range of the A350-800 though with fewer people). Note that Boeing is at the moment promoting the 787-10 with 6,900nm range (YMMV however). An A330-300 today doesn’t this range; an A333RE still would fall short but +500nm isn’t far off.

    5. Yes but that also had a new wing. An A330RE presumably would not.

    6. Airbus says the A330 can carry more cargo than the 787-8, if we recall correctly.

  3. Expansion on #1 above. The ’80s designed airframe, although it is very “resilient” now has to confront the prospect of the 787 entering service, an entirely new airframe. This is something that neither the 737 or A320 in all their variations do not have to deal with unless one decides to count the C-300 or COMAG 919 (or that Russian thing). So what’s the impact on an A330X (or RE) resale value?

  4. That certainly will be a question Boeing faces with the propective re-engining (and perhaps re-winging) of the 777X.

    What is concern for the Goose (Airbus) will be of concern for the Gander (Boeing).

  5. People are slapping on new engines to older frames all the time now.


    Regarding Rolls Royce (editor),

    You could say Rolls Royce just has share on one current Boeing – narrowbody or widebody — as the second option on the 787. All others larger controlled by GE and its industrial partners. Rolls does a bit better at Airbus, but there has exclusivity on just one programme, the A340-500/-600. Rolls Royce definitely needs to push harder for greater share of Boeing jets.

  6. If one wants to go for the minimum-risk, lowest-hanging fruit with a notional A330 re-engine, how attractive is an almost-off-the-shelf Engine Alliance GP7xxx variant, versus having to eat the costs/time/uncertainties of scaling up GTF to the 70k+ lbs thrust levels?

  7. Aren’t there 2 basic causes for this wide body re-engining talk for 200-300 seaters? 1. B can’t produce enough 788/9s to meet demand (also, looks like A is killing the A358). 2. The 787 is very expensive and has more range than is needed for routes like North/South Am to Europe/MEast, and intra Asian. B have 863 788/9 orders, counting AA’s 42 -9s, so no slots until 2018 (est ?), assuming they can get to 10/mo schedule. Meanwhile, the planes the 787s were to replace starting in 5/08 have been aging and the mkt is growing, at least according to Tinseth at his APEX talk.

    Re the need for less performance than the 787 offers, this site is on record advocating the 767RE for just that reason. http://newsite.airinsightresearch.com/2011/04/13/is-it-time-for-the-767ng/ I recall some blogging when B moved the 767 line and made it “lean” that they hoped not only to reduce their tanker bid price so they could win, but also get large 767 freighter orders from FedX and UPS; I remember some reference to a 764F.

    The A320neo/737 MAX might provide models for this re-engining if the OEMs can produce them out the door without performance creep, so they really are cheap compared to planes with newer tech.

  8. I think PW should not overplay their cards. They made a glorious, unexpected come back. Jumping to 90k lbs is an unneccessay risk,.

    Better create a solid base first. Maybe restore ties with RR for this segment in e.g. a new 10-15 yr IAE contract to guarantee a solid after sales & spare production capasity.

    The bigger GTF PW1500 can go up to 40 k lbs. Good enough for a 757, A300, Tu154m, 762 replacement and out of reach for GE at this moment. I think the MS21-400 will need a pretty big GTF anyway..

    IMO in reality PW has nothing to loose with Boeing. If that is truth the other way around is an open question.

  9. No need to wait for a scaled up PW1000, there is the GEnx and the Trent 1000 in the 72,000 lbs (certified) thrust class.

    They could just slap ’em on there, no engine development lead time to consider (unlike the NEO). Both engines are built for the electric 787, but the GEnx-2B for the 747-8 is not. It is certified to 64,000 lbs if my memory serves me right, which might be on the low side, however.

    If GE would be reluctant, RR are probably more keen in the light of them missing out on the SA models.

  10. Well, Airbus FBW craft are still in all essence “state of the art”.
    Progress currently is predominantly in engines(GTF, LEAP, ..), components (hybrid electro hydraulics) and systems software (brake to vacate, general improvements, load alleviation, what not ).
    A Software (re)definable system certainly is an asset here.

    The next year will show how much actual improvement the 787
    provides versus the A330. Additionally available after that year
    will be basic insight into Boeings ability to ramp up production.

    Kicking of a GTF reengine for the A330 may be dependent on
    how well the NEO GTF will achieve the relevant waypoints to
    its EIS.

    Certainly interesting years to come.

  11. .. scaling up GTF to the 70k+ lbs thrust levels

    If the GTF is not murdered in its crib that
    will happen anyway. i.e. no principal limitation
    to scaling up.

  12. As to point #5: hindsight now shows us that with the sales of the A330 over the last 3years thanks to Boeing royally screwing up the 787. The non-WWB A350 would have been a very prudent decision. It had almost 200 orders even before the 787 started showing us how not to manage an aircraft programme and I bet if Airbus had stuck with it, they’d have more than 500+ orders now. But of course everyone was enamored by the new, shiny 787s(a drug like rush as Richard Aboulafia tagged it) and Airbus were cowed into doing the A350XWB, which is not a bad decision too.

  13. Do not ever recall what the current 330/340 winglets convey to the aircraft in the way of performance, but it would perhaps obtain additional benefit from a version of the new Sharklet, probably without any major wing modifications?

  14. Maybe the better title of the article is Airbus’s Dilemma.

    The A330NEO depends on the demand and supply for 250-300 seat widebodies. The A330 is already sold for the next 3 years (348 orders to deliver) so any re-engine study needs to start now with off the shelf engines.

    The new aluminium from Alcoa might save some weight too as well as the sharklets.

    An A330 that can shave off 5 tons and offer 10% better fuel economy can be an attractive alternative to the 787.

  15. I think Airbus stimulating A350-800 customers to switch to the -900 is increasing the possibility for a A330 re-engine.

    Also FEDEX saying they like the 330F, but it has to be quiet at night and fuel zipping can make a difference..

  16. Regarding leehamnet’s post #2 point #1…

    The posts here and on leehamnet seem to harp on the fact that the B737 traces it’s lineage back to the B367-80/KC-135/B707/B720 which is circa 1950’s design… But why doesn’t anyone seem to remember that the A330 is a stretched, re-winged A300, which is a circa 1960’s design (the assumption is that Aurora was discussing A330 not A320neo (a true 1980’s design))?

    The A330 got it’s new wing, engine, electronics and cockpit with a circa 1993 EIS while the B737NG got it’s equivalent upgrades about a half a decade later. Yet, the vibe around here is that the former is still state of the art and the latter is an antique.

    Is there a reason for this? The “smoking crater” statistics seem to point to FBW being more an ease of wiring/plumbing issue more than a safety one so other than that it seems that this becomes more a A-fanboi issue more than being backed up by market facts.


  17. Spot on! The real battle is in the 300-350 seat segment, and A seems to be focusing the A350 on that segment because B can only compete with a new plane up to 320 seats/6900 miles with the 7810, at best. Above that, they seem to be saying that they will compete only with the 777X, which may involve revamps of both the 772ER/LR. I think A sees a chance to dominate the 300-350 seat mkt they way B dominates the mkt above that, altho their dominance will not be a monopoly like B’s. The 332/3 and 767 neos will work in the 200-300 seat mkt for the reasons I set forth above.

  18. Sorry RPF, but the A330 is not a stretched re-winged A300.
    It was a completely new design to take a twin engine or a four engine option(A340) on basically the same wing.
    It is history of course that the T7 destroyed the A340, but it was/is a nice plane to fly in.
    I personally loathe the word “boi”
    Do not understand why it was raised as an issue in the first place.

  19. RPF, actually I was referring to the A330, but I stand corrected: it is based on the A300 design. I can’t answer the question as to why that fact is conveniently ignored; perhaps others can?

    The subject of what P&W will eventually do with the GTF is fascinating, but as I noted in a comment on another Air Insight article, they need to back up all the rhetoric with real “on wing” performance. Until the design is validated by real world performance, discussion of what they will do, or not do, is speculation, fun though it may be. I certainly am hoping they succeed. Pratt is a great company.

    Predicting the future is inherently difficult–even in the best of circumstances. 😉

  20. Anyone above the age of 15 (which I’m assuming you are) that still uses the word “fanboi” is probably not looking for a serious discussion, but just wants to start some AvB issue. If you think the A300-A330 evolution is on par with the 737 Classic-737NG evolution where all the former kept was the cabin size while the latter kept a lot more from the 737 classic, then you should do a lot more research on the A330/A340 family. Maybe that’ll help you understand?

  21. If Pratt were really aggressive, they could consider re-engining existing airframes. Both the DC-8 and 707 went through successful re-engining programs. Both the 737 and A320 have many thousands of aircraft which represent a potential market, and widebodies such as the 767 and A330 have enough aircraft to qualify.

    If Pratt were to introduce a plug and play engine for any of these models, current and projected high fuel prices would be a tempting reason to re-engine.

    While true plug and play wouldn’t be as optimized as a modified airframe version to support higher weights and fan diameters, presumably the GTF technology could still squeeze out something like a 10% fuel consumption improvement, as well as maintenance cost advantages.

    While Boeing and Airbus wouldn’t be happy to see the lives of their existing aircraft extended and reducing demand for replacements, Pratt has almost no relationship with Boeing anyway, and it’s relationship with Airbus is pretty much set for the next 5-10 years.

    This re-engining business model hasn’t been tried for many years, but there is a large potential market out there if Pratt wanted to try to break out of the box.

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