What a horrible week for Rolls-Royce. Not only did they have two engines fail in a most embarrassing way – the events happened to the same customer a day apart on flights out of the same airport. (Link 1; Link 2)
Can it get worse than this? Yes it can and did.
Even as Rolls-Royce was trying hard to figure what was going on with the Qantas engines, they got some more horrible news. Pratt & Whitney (PW) was fighting back and doing so with a very strong legal move.
PW filed patent-infringement complaints against Rolls-Royce. Pratt also filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) which claims the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 and Trent 1000 engines infringe PW’s patent for a swept-fan blade.
So while the lawsuits are one thing, the ITC step is a serious ratcheting up. Let’s explain. Boeing’s 787 program recently was, shall we say, impacted by a Rolls -Royce engine event while being tested in the UK. Boeing blasted Rolls-Royce in a most unpleasant way for the recent delay to its 787.
Now here’s the twist – if PW gets the ITC to rule in its favor, then Boeing might not get more Rolls-Royce engines for the 787 until the matter is settled. Of the 847 787s on order, 215 (25%) have Rolls-Royce engines. GE has 40% – but the remaining 286 (34%) planes have no engine selected yet. If you have 787s on order and have not selected an engine yet, what might you be thinking about now?
Moreover, if PW’s legal action filed in the UK succeeds, then Rolls-Royce will also have trouble shipping engines to the A380 program. Talk about pressure. There are enough frayed nerves on the 787 and A380 programs; anything that adds to the tension will surely be seen in a poor light.
Just to make things even more aggravating, Rolls-Royce is exclusive engine supplier to Airbus’ new A350 – and this airplane’s engine is also subject to the same swept blade issue. So any legal success for PW means really bad news for Rolls-Royce.
“Pratt & Whitney’s case is very strong and we were left with no choice but to take these actions in light of Rolls- Royce’s aggression,” said Katy Padgett, PW spokeswoman. “We regret that these actions are necessary, and we continue to be willing to discuss a mutually acceptable resolution to this dispute.”
Rolls-Royce started this legal wrangle in August. In September PW filed its counter suit. The ITC move by PW is like rubbing rough salt into a gaping wound after the two engine failures.
Is PW trying to get Rolls-Royce to step back from a legal battle? There is no way PW could have known its ITC action timing was exquisite. Rolls-Royce is openly dismissive of PW’s new GTF engine. Are these companies, who are partners in IAE, going to be able to step back? It is not clear what Rolls-Royce can do next to call PW’s bluff.