Michael Perodeau, Vice President, Marketing at Pratt & Whitney Canada on competitive thrust
Q: The new year has not started well for business aviation. In mid-February Bombardier announced it was laying off a further 1,000 workers, this time at its Belfast airframe assembly plant. How do you read the prospects for 2016?
A: When a company is facing those kinds of financial challenges, workforce reduction is a normal response. The whole industry, not just business aviation, is trying to adjust to what low oil prices mean. What we are seeing, really, is the continuation of the uncertainty that has been plaguing us all for a long while now. One of the big missing ingredients as far as the business jets sector is concerned, is the return of business confidence. People have to be confident of their forecasts and their view of their markets before they make the necessary decisions about committing to capital investment in new business aircraft.
On the plus side, we are definitely seeing some recovery in the US market, which, as we all know, is the biggest global market for business jets. That recovery is long overdue and very welcome. But overall, the world still seems to be uncertain as to where economies are going.
Q: The PT6 is now in its 53rd year, having celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. There has been a major announcement from GE about its new Advanced Turboprop (ATP) engine, supported by the fact that it won the competition to power Textron’s next-generation single-engine turboprop aircraft. How do things stand now?
A: As always, we continue to invest in new technology for the PT6, continuing its evolution. We announced, at NBAA in November 2015, the new PT6A-140A turboprop engine and the PT6A-140AG variant – bringing the world’s most popular turboprop family to more than 70 engine models strong. The new engines set the benchmark for performance and fuel efficiency delivering 15 per cent more power and five per cent better specific fuel consumption (SFC) We have an active competitor in GE and we are certainly not going to let GE nibble away at our market without competing strongly. In fact, we have always had competition on the PT6, though the strength of that competition has waxed and waned over the years. John Saabas, our CEO, has made it clear that no one is asleep at the wheel here. Competition is, of course, a good thing for the industry. It keeps everyone on their toes.
Q: Let’s turn to the PW800. What is the progress there?
A: The PurePower® PW800 engine programme is going very well. We now have three aircraft up and flying and we are past the 500-hour flying time mark with those three aircraft. This represents more than 1,000 engine hours, given that these are two engine aircraft. The rate at which we are racking up flight hours shows that things are progressing very well.
The PW800 was designed from the start with ease of maintenance very much in mind. We have focused very intensely on factors such as reliability, durability and accessibility. There is a very large access panel, for example, that lets the service engineers look right into the core area of the engine. We have put steps on the lower fan hatch doors to make the mechanic’s life that much easier. The engine has very powerful FADEC™ and engine monitoring, plus extensive in-flight diagnostics and health monitoring. Ground-based services that use and analyse this data to spot proactively where problems may be building up will be part of our service capability for the PW800.
I would add that we already have the world’s largest service network for engines in our market. We have a global footprint, between our own facilities and those other players that are affiliated with us, which means we are available anywhere in the world for our customer base.
The other great thing about the PW800 is that it is an on-condition engine, which means that service and maintenance milestones depend on how the engine is used. If operators are using normal levels of thrust and operate the aircraft in typical environments, we expect the engine to stay on the wing a very long time.
Now that the flight test programme is in full swing, we are able to carry out an extensive validation of how the features we put into the engine are working in practice. So far everything is panning out very well and we are getting great feedback from Gulfstream, as the launch customer, on how well it is working on their test aircraft.
We are quite well prepared now for its ultimate entry into service. We are busy putting in place the training packages for aircraft on ground (AOG) support, and setting up Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) capabilities so that everything is in place when deliveries begin. We have already started training our field service network, so the infrastructure is in place to provide seamless support.
In parallel with training up the ground teams we are working on fleshing out our ESP® PurePower® PW800 engine service plan, and we are working with Gulfstream as we formulate the services that we add into the service plan package. We are talking to some Gulfstream customers and to the company itself, with the aim of establishing the most comprehensive service plan in the industry. Clearly, our goal is to set new benchmarks for service there too.
Q: Pratt & Whitney Canada has launched a number of new engine programmes down the years. How many of these new programmes have there been?
A: In terms of new engine programmes, we have actually launched a total of 100 new engines over the last 25 years. This includes a combination of clean-sheet, new engines, and derivatives of these engines. It is worth emphasising that a major derivative could well be considered a new, clean-sheet engine in its own right. I suppose, in summary, you could say that we have launched several new families of engines and dozens of new centre-line and major derivatives of those engines.
Q: What generally prompts or inspires P&WC to embark on a new, clean-sheet engine?
A: There is always an ongoing dialogue between our technical development folks and our market strategy people. This is a continuing process and what we are looking for is to identify the point at which technologies that our engineers are playing with in the lab have reached the maturity point where it makes sense to launch an actual, new engine product. The technical things we play with can include aerodynamics of the engine, size, thrust levels and bypass and pressure ratios. We try to balance all that against Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) considerations about weight and range and speed, along with the engine’s ‘green’ pedigree and its fuel efficiency. Then you try to put together an engine with the best balance and combination of features for a particular segment of the business aviation market.
Where we are fortunate is that a lot of the basic technologies can go on many different types of platform, and some of the engine architectures can cross over from one segment to another. For example, the PurePower® PW800 core leverages Pratt & Whitney’s latest technology introduced on the geared turbofan technology. The PW814GA core is the heart of the C Series engine and also the Embraer 195-32. Basically, the more you are in a position to leverage and reuse your technology and architectures, the more you can make things happen that would otherwise be cost prohibitive.
Q: One final question: what impact do you think the new jets that are close to being rolled out into the market will have? Will they stimulate sales?
A: There is no doubt that the market tends to be buoyed up by the introduction of new aircraft models. The Latitude, from Cessna, has been doing very well. There are good sales and we are very pleased with that. The medium and light segments are now showing some signs of life, and that is very pleasing. The Phenom 300 continues to sell well and Dassault with the Falcon 8x, which is certifying this year with our engines on board. Dassault has a very active flight test programme in hand that is going very well, so there are actually a lot of positive things happening in the market.