Posts Tagged “Pratt & Whitney”

As GTF problems are solved, DCGA pulls the plug in India

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The Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan has had a difficult introduction, with several problems on the PW1100G powering the Airbus A320neo.  The latest problem involves the aft hub knife edge seal within the high pressure compressor, which has resulted in-flight shutdowns.  Pratt & Whitney and Airbus are well aware of the problem, as is EASA, the European safety agency. In early February, they issued an airworthiness directive to not pair two engines with this seal on an airplane, but allowing them to fly as long as one engine on the aircraft didn’t have the knife-edge seal in question. The Indian DGCA has now grounded the aircraft in India.

This comes just as Pratt & Whitney data indicate that they have solved all known problems on the aircraft, are delivering new engines that solve the latest issues, and are reporting better than expected performance, with a 16% improvement in fuel burn, between 1-2% better than the competing LEAP engine on the A320neo family.

There have been three incidents with in-flight shutdowns in 2018 per the DGCA, two involving IndiGo and one with GoAir.  The latest incident, happened on Monday when an IndiGo flight was forced to return to Ahmedabad airport.

So the question is why the Indian authorities have take stronger action than the Europeans?  One reason may be is that India has experienced several in-flight engine shutdowns.  But the strangest part of the order, to us, is that the DGCA has also asked the airlines not to replace the engines, which is the solution to the problem.  That to us, makes no sense whatsoever, as aircraft operating with 1 normal and 1 engine with a faulty seal could be swapped to reduce the number of grounded aircraft and minimize disruptions.  It is almost as if the government is stacking the deck against the OEM to maximize potential economic damages for the airlines operating the A320neo.

The European airworthiness authority developed a pragmatic and logical response to the short-term issue that impacts a very small number of engines, which was not to pair them.  European carriers know how to work with OEMs to solve issues.  Lufthansa also operates the GTF, but we don’t hear whining in the press about problems, but instead see pragmatic sharing of information to help solve the problem, with the recognition they are an early adopter of the technology.

The Indian government and Indian airlines have taken things a step further.  In looking back to the introduction of the 787, there were more technical problems with Air India than any other carrier. Now in looking at the GTF, the majority of issues also appear to be in India.  This trend with two high-technology products might be an omen for OEMs to schedule deliveries to Indian airlines later rather than earlier in the life of their programs, hopefully after products are fully mature.

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Safran’s results

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Safran reported its 2017 results this week.  Revenue of €16.5Bn beat the analyst consensus €16.3Bn.  And operating profit at €2.5Bn beat analyst consensus of €2.4Bn.

On the company’s conference call, Safran said it now expects to deliver “at least” 1,100 LEAP engines this year, which is lower than a previous plan for 1,200. Safran’s CEO  noted a delivery schedule impact from turbine disc quality.  Safran said they expect to be on schedule by mid-2018 because they have not had any technical problems in the past six months.

The narrowbody rate increases proposed by the OEMs to 70 per month are a concern.  Mr. Petitcolin said he would be more comfortable making a decision in 2019 rather than today because Safran isn’t sure the supply chain could sustain such a rate.  This view is reflected by many people in the industry and was a point of discussion at the recent PNAA event.

The key item for us from this is the recognition that the newest engines, both the LEAP and GTF, are testing materials and technologies under tougher conditions than before.  On top of the technical aspects, the demands from Airbus and Boeing are surely a source of intense pressure for the LEAP team.  Both the GTF and the LEAP have faced a few hiccups.  Because of the rivalry on the A320neo program, the LEAP team and the GTF team give no margin to the other on any potential deal.  While LEAP has no competitor on the MAX program, it has to help Boeing on every MAX vs neo campaign, because not every neo will come with a LEAP.

Safran, as a member of the LEAP team, has a multi-sided challenge.  Mr. Petitcolin’s low comfort level with a rate increase is well founded.  These are not easy times even though the market has exploded with opportunity.

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Airbus single aisle engine update

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The race between the CFM LEAP and Pratt & Whitney GTF remains intense.  They battle each other for every order on the Airbus single-aisle fleet.  The A320neo program has had engine hiccups as the OEM has managed to produce aircraft faster than it can get engines.  Images like this (and this) are all around Toulouse airport.   Is this bad news?  Well, yes, but it is a testimony to the fact the A320neo program has far more successful than Airbus imagined.  We would think even John Leahy was taken aback.  The engine makers were probably equally surprised and delighted.

Here is our video from April 2011 when Mr. Leahy announced the A320neo family.  It is 44 minutes of Mr. Leahy at his best.

The engine battle between CFM and Pratt goes back all the way to the start of the A320 program.  Pratt’s initial offering was the IAE engine, a collaboration with Rolls-Royce.  Even the GTF on the neo today is referred to as an IAE engine.  The table shows how the engine battle goes.

On the current engine program for the A320, the CFM has a commanding lead.   It also is well ahead on the A320neo – but nearly half the orders have no engine selected yet.  Pratt has seen some defections from their GTF to the LEAP at Royal Brunei and Qatar.  One might think that Pratt faces a steep climb.  But as it works through the GTF teething problems, the performance of the engine has generated very good numbers.  Pratt has a strong lead on the A321ceo and it has the lead on the A321neo.

As we stated at the start, every deal will be a fight.  Because the GTF has had teething trouble, CFM has a temporary advantage it can exploit.  But as the GTF settles (and it will) the engine war will continue.  Buyers of the A320neo can use this battle to drive engine deals that they won’t find on other narrow-body programs.   While a disadvantage to engine manufacturers, who are competing more aggressively, this helps Airbus maintain a market share advantage over Boeing’s competing 737 MAX.

The Bottom Line: Competition is good, and makes everybody better.


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The GTF engine and the news – a perspective

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Should the market be concerned about P&W?

Yet another issue with the Pratt & Whitney GTF was reported last week.  Certainly, frustrating airlines and Airbus again. This time it’s the high-pressure compressor and the knife edge seal.

The pattern was detected in late January by some accounts, and by February 8, EASA issued an emergency airworthiness directive, requiring aircraft with both engines from the affected population of engines to be grounded. That number seems to be small – by P&W’s count, it was 11 aircraft. Aircraft with one engine from the affected population – 21 by P&W’s count – can continue to fly but not on ETOPS routes.  P&W started to work on the issue immediately – before the AD.  The AD came after the fourth case of an engine problem.

On any other engine on any other day, it would be have noted but not headline news outside of aviation media.  But this is the GTF, and after last year, everyone watches P&W very closely.  Deservedly so – their introduction of the first new engine architecture in 30 years warrants the kind monitoring they’ve been getting.

How are they handling this issue?

In answering this question, compare P&W’s handling of this issue with the handling of the #3 carbon seal last year.  Then the #3 carbon seal issue led to grounded aircraft, most notably in India, in summer last year. P&W was in reaction mode until the redesigned part was certified, at which point they seemed to take a more proactive approach to telling their story. It was a summer of pain – for their customers, for Airbus, and for P&W.

P&W has handled this issue differently – far more proactive, with more confidence and transparency, to their advantage. The number of engines worldwide in service affected by this HPC issue is 43 – on 32 aircraft, so the scope is significantly smaller and contained, unlike with the #3 seal issue. The mitigation plan is far more immediate than with the #3 seal, too. And most of all, P&W shared a more technical information through their official press releases than they have before.

The Leduc impact

This may be the first signs of what P&W President Bob Leduc calls his “cultural transformation” in action. Mr. Leduc came back to P&W after many years’ absence and, in his words, “didn’t recognize the place I once loved.” Decision making had been pulled up to the highest levels, people were afraid to communicate bad news, and the entire company seemed bloated and bureaucratic. It’s surprising the GTF comes from P&W, with the culture Leduc re-entered in 2016.  All trade media trying to get information out of the company over the past 24 months knows this.

Mr. Leduc realized there were issues needing attention: a majority of its engineering talent was going to retire in the next decade. Technology was reshaping the factory floor, changing the fundamental role of hourly workers. And he was facing a production ramp for the GTF and F135 programs that the company hadn’t seen since the 1980s, or arguably since the second world war.

Leadership shuffles, not just the heads of the major product lines, but throughout the organization were made. Mr. Leduc started doing more internal employee meetings, preaching the gospel of their mission, all revolving around the fact that every second of every day, someone somewhere depended on a P&W engine to get them where they needed to go.  Last year he championed a leadership course by the Thayer Leader Development Group, led by retired Army commanders who know about leading in a volatile environment.

Mr. Leduc’s work is far from done, but something seems to be catching on. He’s helped by the support from United Technologies, and the fact that while the GTF has had a series of issues, crucially none of these technical problems are related to the gear system itself. Plus, the engine is meeting and even exceeding performance promises for fuel efficiency and noise. It is only on the A320neo program that these issues have occurred.  Bombardier, Embraer, Mitsubishi, and IRKUT all seem pleased they chose the engine for their programs. Even Sukhoi is flirting with using it.  If the engine was fundamentally a risk, the OEMs other than Airbus would not be using it exclusively.

Our assessment

The GTF is sound, and the issues are irritating but ultimately solvable. We like the direction P&W is taking but they must “walk the talk.” They recommitted to meeting their 2018 production numbers, (after having met the production numbers in 2017) so time will tell, but for now, we think it’s appropriate to give them the benefit of the doubt. Remember how Boeing had an uphill battle with India-based 787s?  Boeing got through it.  So will P&W.

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EASA Issues New Airworthiness Directive for PW GTF Engines on A320neo Family

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EASA today issued an emergency Airworthiness Directive related to Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engines on A320neo family aircraft.  That AD can be found here,   Apparently, several rejected take offs (RTO) and in flight shut downs (IFSD) have occurred with the PW1127G-JM, PW1127GA-JM, PW1133G-JM and PW1133GA-JM engines having engine serial numbers P770450 or subsequent.

While the root cause is not known, preliminary findings indicate that the affected engines, that had a high pressure compressor aft hub modification that began with serial number 450, are more susceptible to IFSD, which if not corrected could lead to dual engine failure.  Pratt & Whitney indicate that the issue is related to a “knife-edge seal in the high pressure compressor aft hub” and are already at work to find the root cause and fix for that issue.

Emergency operational restrictions called for in the Airworthiness Directive include de-pairing affected engines within 3 flight cycles, and within 1 flight cycle eliminating ETOPS operations for aircraft with 1 affected engine installed.

This Airworthiness Directive presents another blow to the GTF program just as production rates had ramped up to planned levels.  It appears that because this AD impacts newer engines, Pratt & Whitney will need to stop production to modify the current build standard and fix the cause behind the higher than expected IFSD rate.

At this writing, we cannot project how long it will take for Pratt & Whitney to develop a “fix” for the problem, nor the overall impact on A320neo operations with affected customers.  This AD will likely impact about 226 engines on 113 aircraft in service with 18 customers.  It is also likely to impact a few more engines currently on the production lines at Airbus and Pratt & Whitney that will likely need to be retrofit prior to installation on new aircraft, as well as spare engines in inventories.

As we obtain further details, we will update this story.




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Pratt & Whitney having a great show

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The Singapore air show got off to a start yesterday.  It hasn’t been a noisy affair.  Boeing picked up a lot of service business – which is a key goal for the company.  Boeing also seems to be using the show to broaden discussions with the world beyond customers about its 797.  The big question though is where are Boeing and Embraer going with their deal?  There are some conflicting stories about this – some media talk about a 90% deal and others indicate Brazil will not be rushed into this. The Brazilian air force now seems to hold the decision.

The company that seems to be having a great show so far is Pratt & Whitney.  It announced an inauguration of GP7200 overhaul capability at its Singapore engine center.  Pratt & Whitney also announced orders to supply GTF engines for A320neo for Aviation Capital Group (20 aircraft), SWISS (15), Aircalin (2) and lessor BOC Aviation (12).  Then subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Canada signed a contract with Qantas Airways for the maintenance of 51 APUs on aircraft flown by the Qantas Group. The contract covers 20 APS2100 APUs for QantasLink Boeing 717s; 19 APS5000 APUs for Jetstar and Qantas Boeing 787s; and 12 PW980 APUs for Qantas Airbus A380s.

To top this off, Sukhoi announced that they are working on a 75-seat shrink of their SSJ and considering using the same version of the GTF seen on the MRJ for this aircraft.  Considering the GTF is also found on the C Series, E2, neo, and MC-21 this is an excellent statement of confidence in that engine.  One might argue that for the market between 75 to 150 seats, the market has embraced the GTF as the new standard. Having a GTF solution for the A321 and MC-21 helps boost that program all the way to over 200 seats.

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