In recent weeks, Pratt & Whitney has been increasingly vocal in insisting that its powerplant offering for the Airbus A320neo has overcome early teething troubles and has succeeded in making a strong entry-into-service over the first six months of 2016. At media briefings held at its U.S. headquarters in early June, the engine maker found it hard to conceal frustration at what it views as overstated criticism by customers.
In Pratt & Whitney’s view, the facts speak for themselves: it expects to have delivered 200 examples of the PurePower PW1000 Geared Turbofan (GTF) family by the end of 2016, and the majority of these will be the PW1100G turbofan for the A320neo. According to #engineering vice president Tom Prete, all production engines now being delivered include a fix to resolve “rotor bow” issues that had required longer than acceptable start times. Also resolved are software issues that had caused nuisance alerts in aircraft operated by Lufthansa.
The “rotor bow” issue necessitated some modifications to overcome thermal deformation and slight rotor-shaft misalignment caused by asymmetric cooling when insufficient heat has dissipated following previous engine shutdown. “It was mainly a geometric issue in the length of the rotors that changed the bow of the rotor, and we learned it a little late in the program,” Prete told reporters. “There is no drama around this, and we will drop the motor start times by two times.”
Pratt & Whitney has felt the heat from senior Airbus executives who have expressed public empathy for disappointed customers such as Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker. During the recent IATA annual general meeting in Ireland, Al Baker unleashed some characteristically blunt invective against the engine maker and declared that he is cancelling initial orders for five PW1100G-powered Neos.
“Lots has been written about the Neo [engines], some of it true and some of it untrue,” said Pratt & Whitney president Bob Leduc. “I won’t debate our customers, but I will just state the facts. Some of what has been said is grandstanding.”
The facts that Leduc wanted to see on the record include, as of June 7, three airlines (Lufthansa, IndiGo and GoAir) were operating seven Pratt-powered Neos, and had logged more than 2,000 cycles and 2,600 flight hours without any engine shutdowns or rejected takeoffs and with a dispatch reliability rate of 99.7 percent. “Also, we’ve hit all the noise and emissions targets from the start, which is rare; normally there needs to be a performance improvement package to achieve this,” he stated. He confirmed that the new engine is matching its promise of 16 percent reduction in fuel burn (compared to the existing A320ceo’s engines), plus a 75 percent reduction in noise levels and 60 percent fewer carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide particulates emitted.
The “rotor bow” issue is not a concern for the other members of the GTF family as they are fan—rather than core—mounted to the pylon. But Pratt & Whitney is also busy expanding production for the PW1500G that powers Bombardier’s C Series narrowbody imminently entering service with launch customer Swiss, as well as for the PW1900G on the new Embraer 190-E2 (which made an earlier-than-anticipated first flight on May 23), plus the PW1400G for the MC-21 rolled out last month by Russia’s UAC group and the PW1200G for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.
According to Pratt & Whitney senior vice president Danny Di Perna, PW1100Gs will account for around 75 percent (or 150) of the 200 GTF engines targeted for delivery by the end of 2016. The engine maker has promised Airbus to produce sufficient PW1100Gs this year to support a total of at least 56 aircraft deliveries. Also, Bombardier will take delivery of around 30 PW1500Gs, with a mix of production examples of the PW1200G going to Mitsubishi and a small number of compliance engines joining the MC-21 and E2 flight-test programs.
Annoying eleventh-hour design changes apart, the main challenges are now squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturer’s production team, who have the champagne-problem of delivering on the unprecedently high backlog of orders for the GTF engines. Not only does Pratt & Whitney need to produce far more engines, far more quickly; it needs to make them more profitably.
“We will be bringing down the cost [of production],” said Gregory Hayes, president and CEO of parent company UTC. “Now GTF is costing $10 million per engine to make and this needs to be less than $2 million. Over the next 15 years Pratt & Whitney will double the number of engines it has in service.”