The revolutionary Pratt & Whitney engine powering the strong-selling A320neo has encountered early problems, but airline customers report better-than-expected efficiency when they are working properly.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Pratt & Whitney’s revolutionary new commercial jet engine, the Geared Turbofan (GTF), is delivering terrific fuel efficiency in early airline service but stumbles in the reliability of those initial engines have hit production of Airbus’ newest A320neo single-aisle jets.
Aengus Kelly, chief executive of Ireland-based AerCap, the world’s largest lessor, said Tuesday one of his airline customers reported that an A320neo powered by the GTF reported fuel savings on a six-hour flight of 17 percent compared to the former A320 classic model on the same route — 2 percent better than promised.
“The good news is, the engine’s fuel-burn reduction is exceeding all targets,” Kelly said. “The bad news is, it’s not staying on the wing as long as we want it.”
Airlines have found that multiple GTF engines had to be removed after a short time in service because a bearing has failed or the combustion chamber has degraded.
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Pratt, the jet-engine division of aerospace giant United Technologies, has acknowledged the problems and has designed fixes.
The bearing compartment has been redesigned, and retrofits to all engines begin next month. Improved combustion chambers are being tested and are to be delivered in the fall.
At the annual Americas conference of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) in San Diego, Pratt senior vice president Rick Deurloo insisted that the main gearbox that is the revolutionary part of the GTF’s architecture has performed flawlessly and that solutions for all the problems that have arisen are in process.
The gearbox — a constellation of toothed gears arranged in a ring-shaped chamber — sits at the front of the engine just behind the fan and slows the speed of the fan to make the engine more efficient.
The GTF represents a make-or-break moment for Pratt, which needs the engine to work so it can get back into a commercial jet-engine business long dominated by rivals General Electric and Rolls-Royce.
Though Boeing doesn’t use the GTF engine, it powers half of the Airbus A320neos as well as Russia’s MS-21 and is the exclusive engine on Bombardier’s new CSeries jet, Embraer’s E2 regional jet family and Japan’s Mitsubishi Regional Jet.
“United Technologies is one of the biggest industrials in the world. It’s going to throw whatever resources are required to fix it,” Kelly said. “We believe they will. People will have forgotten about this in a year’s time.”
The biggest players in airplane buying at ISTAT agreed, though John Plueger — chief executive of major lessor Air Lease Corp. — said he wouldn’t be surprised if it takes until next year to get all the problems sorted out, the backlog of engines retrofitted and the stream of engines flowing at the level expected.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy said that in the meantime the European jet maker is switching around production and giving airlines more classic A320s until the new engines are ready.
He recalled that last year many early A320neos sat on the ramp at Toulouse waiting for engines at one stage, as Pratt struggled to fix earlier issues.
“It’s very frustrating for us,” Leahy said. “We had close to 30 gliders last year. We’ve whittled that down a bit now, and we don’t want to see that situation again.”
But he too expressed confidence in Pratt’s ability to fix the issues and said he’s relieved there are no problems with the gearbox.
Bertrand Grabowski, a consultant to various aviation finance entities in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, said that with complex new technology like the GTF, “teething problems are absolutely normal.”
In his ISTAT presentation, Pratt’s Deurloo said the engine maker remains confident enough of the technology that all its future engines of all sizes will be geared.