GE’s billion-dollar baby

posted on 12th June 2018

For GE’s Brad Mottier, Vice President, Business & General Aviation, it has been a good three years. When the parent, GE Aviation, decided to set up a pure GA and business aviation division, it set the lofty goal of $1 billion turnover by 2020. Now just three years in, Mottier says that the figure is going to be higher

When the division was set up in January 2008, with Mottier at the helm, the goal was $1 billion. However, he says that because it has already won a lot of business, that this figure is under review. “From where we are sitting today, it is clearly achievable. So naturally we’re now going through our growth playbook. What we have today equals $1 billion.

“Now we are looking to accelerate our plans, and although we probably won’t have our new target number until sometime in June, it is not just going to be a little bit more, like $1.1 billion or $1.2 billion,” he says.

And with that target in mind, Mottier says that the emphasis is on creating business and opportunities. Back in 2008 it had the support work for the CF34 engine found on Bombardier Challenger aircraft, as well as what he calls some legacy products on early Learjets and Dassault Falcons.

Naturally, the amount of work on the CF34 did slow down recently, he says. “But we do see that recovering. Larger cabin aircraft have not had as significant an impact when compared to the medium segment. So I think our sustaining business is pretty well positioned.”

Part of the $1 billion in revenue is coming from the joint venture with Honda for the HF120 engine, which he says is moving along well. Mottier says that the HF120 has nearly 1,500 hours of testing on 13 engine builds and is approaching the tail end of the certification process. “We have some tests that still need to run, but these will take place in 2011. We’re full throttle ahead to complete our certification.”

The engine is flying on the HondaJet already, he says, and  so far, the engine is “running beautifully”. “The engines are flying on the HondaJet and are exhibiting carefree handling of thrust and are supporting top-level performance and efficiency.”

As such, the engine has already demonstrated performance up to altitudes of 46,000ft and at speeds of Mach 0.8 in test cells. And because of GE’s military business, it has access to the altitude test chambers where it can control everything from altitude, temperature, pressure and air inlet speeds. Mottier says the company was that certain on the HF120 that when it ran the first test it was in the altitude chamber. “Competing companies typically run at sea level or local altitude. We didn’t,” he boasts.

“We’re very excited to be on the HondaJet. Honda is a great partner and this is a major game-changing aircraft. It will burn less fuel and fly much faster for a significantly reduced cost,” he says. “And making sure that the HF120 has a flawless EIS for the HondaJet is a must for us.”

The HondaJet engine is not the only project at the front of Mottier’s mind. “The company acquired Walter Aircraft Engines back in 2008 with the sole purpose of moving GE into the small turboprop market. “This was not a size of engine that we had built before. Our strategy was to acquire the proven, robustly designed M601 series engine that was developed during the Soviet era in Czechoslovakia. We would then upgrade the M601 with modern GE aerodynamic, mechanical and material science technologies to make it a very competitive product and offer PT6 customers an alternative where there hasn’t been one for many years,” he says.

And GE is ready to do battle with Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6. Mottier says: “Compared to an engine of the same relative horsepower in the PT6, we have the equivalent, or slightly better fuel burn, less maintenance expenses and better temperature margins.”

Since GE Aviation acquired the M601 engine, he says, the transformation into the new H80 has been dramatic. “The significant improvements in the power and performance of the H80 engine really speak for the technical expertise that GE has. The M601 featured 2D aerodynamic blade designs, which was replaced with GE’s 3D aerodynamic design capabilities that we leveraged from our TechX and GEnX programmes,” he says.

Additionally, the H80 engine received some upgraded materials in the engine core which Mottier says saw the starting 840 thermodynamic horsepower in the latest M601 core upped to 1070 with the H80– without increasing the core’s size. “That’s a clear indication of the benefit of infusing proven GE technology into the new engine. It will bring huge benefits to our customers,” he says.

The H80 is slated for certification in June, says Mottier. And interest is high. The first application is the Thrush 510G crop-duster, a significantly redesigned version of Thrush’s basic PT6-powered aircraft. In the Czech Republic, the H80 was chosen by Aircraft Industries to upgrade their venerable, M601-powered L410 commuter aircraft. Elsewhere in Russia, Technoavia has selected the H80 for its twin turboprop utility/trainer aircraft. Not to mention that there are plans to introduce the engine into a King Air as an STC engine upgrade conversion. He says that the company is also speaking to a “number” of aircraft manufacturers that are interested in the initial 800shp H80 or a derivative thereof.

Moving on from small engines to the recent announcement that GE has been selected by Bombardier for a GE engine to power the Global 7000 and Global 8000, it is clear that this is a large advancement, because not only will it mark the first TechX core application for a business jet, but it is the first time that GE will deliver an “integrated propulsion system”.

Mottier explains that a move to integrated propulsion systems is a clear step forward for improving efficiency and reducing drag. “In the past, the engine has been designed by engine guys to a certain set of specifications. Then the airframer has contracted out the design of the cowling and nacelle to someone else.

“With these products and engineering getting more and more sophisticated, and trying to reduce both fuel burn and emissions, there is a technical synergy, and real benefit, by looking at the engine, the nacelle, the ducting and the mountings as a propulsion unit. For example, some of the structure that we might otherwise put in the engine may be more efficient if we move it into the cowling, or switch around other pieces,” he explains.

As such, for the brace of new Bombardier jets, GE picks up the responsibility for the entire package and has created a joint venture with AirCelle, called NexCelle, to help work on the parts of the engine that GE typically hasn’t touched before. “We are already seeing weight, drag and efficiency improvements,” Mottier.

Clearly GE sees the benefit of an integrated system but Mottier refuses to be drawn on whether this would be the way of the future saying: “some airframers may have a different view”.

But while drumming up new business and finding new opportunities to create new products is just one aspect, Mottier is well aware that, previously, the support for GE-powered business jets could have been much better. However, that’s no longer the case. “One of the things my team is working on is improving customer product support and the service network. A few years ago, a ProPilot survey of engine manufacturers from a product support point of view would find GE at the bottom of the list,” admits Mottier. “However now I’m happy to say that through a lot of effort we have moved up in the rankings. And last year finished second. Naturally we are aiming for top spot.”

To make sure that the goal of being rated as number one is achieved, he says there’s a dedicated Business and GA Product Support Manager whose job it is to make sure that GE moves up the rankings.

“Product support is critical, especially in this segment. About 70% of operators only operate one aircraft, and they don’t have the mechanical infrastructure and technical resources that an airline has. That’s why we’ve learnt that we have to treat each customer as VIP fleet of one,” he says.

Ultimately though, he says that the challenge he faces is that there is more technology that he can leverage from GE’s stable, derived from its various other programmes and applications, but it is all about finding the right balance and design philosophy; because designing and engine for a biz jet varies from designing an engine for a commercial airline in terms of how much it is used over a year. However Mottier is bullish and says: “We have a long list of technology that other manufacturers don’t have to create the best recipe.”