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Pratt & Whitney is well positioned to take market leadership from CFM International over the next decade. Airbus selection of the GTF on the A320neo family provides the validation from one of the two large manufacturers to confirm the decision of three other programs that the GTF provides superior economics and performance. Next on the horizon for PW are Embraer and Boeing.

The innovative Geared Turbofan from Pratt & Whitney has now been selected for four new technology aircraft programs, with the Airbus A320neo joining the Bombardier CSeries, Irkut MS-21 and Mitsubishi Regional Jet. With Boeing now leaning to a new program, it is likely that the GTF will be offered, along with the CFM LEAP-X, on the new 737 replacement, as Boeing will be unable to ignore the most efficient engine in the marketplace. While that program is still years away, we believe it will offer two engine options, which airliner prefer to the single option available today.

A New Competitive Landscape

Why has the GTF suddenly changed the competitive landscape for narrow-body aircraft engines? The answer is performance. While the concept of a geared turbofan isn’t new, as geared engines have been around for more than 40 years, PW’s innovation has been making the technology work for large aircraft engines at the appropriate ratios to optimize performance. By optimizing the speed of the fan and shaft of the low pressure turbine engine section separately, small improvements in each area of the engine are literally multiplied in the overall efficiency of the engine. The 20 years PW spent in R&D on the GTF concept has finally paid off with a step-function increase in turbine engine efficiency.

With an all new core, new fan technology, and the gearbox, the PurePower 1000 engine series will begin life with several applications spread over a three year period. The initial application on the Bombardier CSeries will be in 2013, the Mitsubishi RJ in 2014, and the MS-21 and neo in 2016.

Can PW bring four versions of a new technology engine for four different airplanes on time? They’ve done it before, with the venerable JT8D that powered the Boeing 727-100 and -200, Boeing 737-100 and -200, Douglas DC-9-10, -30, -40, and -50, as well as the Aerospatiale (EPA:EAD) Caravelle and Dassault Mercure. While those programs shared a common core and today’s programs will utilize different cores, the GTF technology is scalable, enabling rapid development of various thrust sizes. And of course, the JT8D programs were developed before the days of CAD/CAM systems and the computer technology that drive engineering productivity today. Does Pratt & Whitney have the resources to complete four versions – absolutely.

While performance of the initial GTF will be comparable with the LEAP-X from CFM International, it is the long-term potential for the GTF that has the industry talking. Pratt & Whitney believes that the GTF technology, when mature, will provide fuel efficiencies 30% better than today’s engine, making it competitive with the theoretical, slower and environmentally problematic open rotor solutions being proposed by GE and Rolls Royce. GE and CFM have been silent on the long-term growth prospects of the LEAP-X, which is viewed by industry experts as pushing the limits of existing technologies with little future room for performance improvement. Thus, over the longer-term, the GTF is the likely winner in the narrow-body segment.

Of course fuel burn isn’t the only element of concern to airlines. With the efficiencies gained by the gearbox enabling fewer engine sections, the PW GTF will offer maintenance costs 20% lower than today’s engines, while the LEAP-X, according to the CFM brochure will have maintenance costs similar to the existing CFM-56. The net result, from an economic perspective, is significant enough that PW should gain market share when the two engines are compared head to head. (Maintenance costs are typically about 25% of total operating costs, and engine maintenance about 60% of total maintenance – so a 20% reduction would translate to a net 3% reduction in total operating costs, which is a significant difference to an airline.) With lower noise levels as well, the GTF is well positioned for the next generation of narrow-body aircraft.

Issues related to reliability of the gearbox have been clearly answered with PW’s extensive testing of both the gearbox and now the first production engines. PW and its sister companies at United Technologies have installed gearboxes on more than 54,000 aircraft and have accumulated more than 640 million hours in service. While some uninformed industry critics claim a gearbox is old technology, PW’s innovation has reduced the gearbox to only seven moving parts – a solution that is best described as “engineering elegance.”

Bottom Line:

Airbus selection of the GTF has provided the “major player” validation of the GTF engine, which had already been selected by three other programs. It appears that PW is a Phoenix rising from the ashes in the narrow-body market, and is well poised to capture market leadership.

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