The new ATP is aimed at the P&WC PT6 engine. GE was delighted to announce that Textron was their launch customer and will deploy the engine on a single engine passenger aircraft yet to be defined and described in detail. Moreover, GE made it clear that it is likely to deploy the engine with a Dowty propeller. Textron demurred, saying they had not selected a propeller yet.
The general consensus among the media was that P&WC now faces a challenge. After the excitement, let’s evaluate this.
John Saabas, P&WC President said during their media briefing “every time someone comes up with something, we’re not asleep at the wheel. We know where the industry is going and where the trends are, so we’re investing as well.” P&WC has been building turboprop engines for over 50 years. Its PT6 is the most popular turboprop engine ever made. The first PT6 ran in 1963 and was created with a tiny budget of C$100,000. Over time the PT6 engine has seen over 100 applications. Over 55,000 PT6s have been delivered. With over 70 models, it is, in many ways, the “go to” turboprop engine family. P&WC is rightly proud of this product.
Given the PT6’s history and market penetration, it is an obvious target for GE. Moreover, at NBAA, P&WC introduced yet another PT6 engine, aimed at the utility market.
Let’s examine another part of the untold/unofficial PT6 history. Many years ago (the history is deliberately vague) P&WC had a Czech engineer who decided to return to his homeland. When he left the company, he pilfered copies of the PT6 design. Magically the Czech Walter engine came out, and was a replica of the PT6. Indeed, the copy was apparently so good it included the mistakes that P&WC had started to fix and improve on newer variants. P&WC went on to refine and tweak the PT6 so that they offered versions from 750 HP to nearly 2,000 HP. There are 20 versions of the Walter turboprop. The current versions are named H by GE and have 750 HP, 800 HP and 850 HP.
GE has been building turboprop engines for years. It had the CT7 from 1973 that saw numerous military applications and powered the SAAB 340, the LET L-610 and the CASA CN-235. The engine offered 1,735 HP. GE also builds the GE38, a 7,500 HP turboshaft engine powering the new Sikorsky CH-53K heavy helicopter. GE’s commercial turboprop engines have essentially been the CT7 and then Walter and now the ATP.
P&WC has seen other competitors too. Garrett has been building turboprops nearly as long as P&WC. Its TPE331 has sold over 14,000 since 1963 and offered 575 HP.
So how concerned should P&WC be with the new GE ATP?
P&WC has nothing to fear from the Walter (or GE H series) engines technically. But the new ATP is a different animal. It does not trace its roots to the Walter. Indeed, observers may wonder why GE has gone through so many engine versions to reach the ATP.
GE was excited to explain that it developed the ATP by looking in the “GE parts store”. That GE has an excellent reputation for developing turbines is well known. Even if the ATP proves to be technically competitive with the current PT6, P&WC is also able to reach into the P&W parts store. For example, the GTF core is scalable and is used by P&WC for its vaunted PW800. P&WC can compete with the ATP on a technical level. Indeed, one can expect that the arrival of a real competitor to the PT6 has P&WC’s undivided attention.
However, in our view the greatest competitive threat will come from the GE Aviation colossus. GE has been able to secure its role on the 777 as exclusive because the company is a risk partner on the program. Its economic power is also on display with the CFM LEAP engine on the 737 MAX.
As NBAA showed there are many airframe manufacturers trying to market single engine and twin engine turboprops. By far most are PT6 powered. But as these firms start to thin out due to lack of sales and resources, a new engine from either P&WC or GE could play a critical role as aircraft program savior. Textron’s new aircraft is a first example. Textron makes lots of Beechcraft that use turboprops. It would be no surprise to see GE make a move on this OEM akin to its close relationship with Boeing.
GE Aviation’s success is therefore a sure bet with the ATP because of the resources that stand behind the GE brand. On the other hand, P&WC, as part of the P&W family and UTC combine, is no slouch: think about their recent home runs with the PurePower technology in the business jet and commercial aircraft segments, and let’s not underestimate P&WC’s deep roots in the general aviation market
But looking forward, the turboprop market is much more likely to be a two horse race. We expect to see faster technology improvements because of this race. This will suit OEMs and customers. Industry followers will also delight in yet another competitive story to follow.