Pratt Sees Busy Year-End As It Targets GTF Catch-Up

Originally published by Guy Norris for AviationWeek on November 28th 2016

After a rough start to the year with production delays and start-time issues marring the debut of the geared turbofan (GTF), Pratt & Whitney says it is on track to end 2016 in a much improved state, with deliveries accelerating and initial engines performing with dispatch reliability greater than 99%.

The company’s recovery plan has focused particularly on improving the production quality of the hybrid aluminum-titanium fan blade used in all but the smallest variants of the PW1000G. Issues with the complex manufacture of these parts were blamed as the main culprit for a slower-than-planned production ramp-up that earlier this year forced Pratt to slow deliveries of PW1500Gs to Bombardier for the C Series and PW1100Gs to Airbus for the A320neo.

“We had to overcome some issues with deliveries,” says Graham Webb, Pratt’s vice president for commercial engines. “It has been hard work and obviously there is more work to be done, but we are accelerating, which is why it is going to be a busy end of year.”

AirBaltic is set to become first operator of the PW1500G-powered Bombardier CS300 in December. Credit: Bombardier

AirBaltic is set to become first operator of the PW1500G-powered Bombardier CS300 in December. Credit: Bombardier

By late November, about 30 PW1000G-powered aircraft were in service or poised for delivery, the bulk of them A320neos. Bombardier, which delivered the first three PW1500G-powered CS100s to Swiss International Air Lines, is expected to deliver the first CS300 to launch operator Air Baltic in early December.

Pratt says the blade production rate and quality are increasing at Pratt’s AutoAir facility in Lansing, Michigan, where the company is expanding manufacturing and adding a plant nearby to produce more blades. It is due to start full production in April, according to Greg Hayes, CEO of Pratt parent company United Technologies Corp.. Pratt also is seeing production of fan blade components increase at its recently opened Singapore facility and expects additional blades to be coming on-line from IHI of Japan by year-end.

As part of the overhaul of the production system, Pratt has recruited former GE Aviationand Sikorsky Aircraft executive Shane Eddy as senior vice president for operations. Hayes says he is “highly confident” the team led by Eddy will meet the 350-400 engine deliveries targeted for the 2017 ramp-up. Pratt still hopes to deliver around 150 powerplants by the end of 2016, about 50 fewer than originally planned, but expects to be back on its delivery schedule by the end of next year. Eddy succeeds Danny Di Perna, who is no longer with Pratt.

“Our operations team has done a tremendous job in terms of putting together a plan to improve yield, and that continues to accelerate,” says Webb. From earlier this year when less than one-third of the blades were making it through first-pass inspection, the latest batches are yielding about a 75% success rate, according to sources.

The PW1100G-powered A320neo fleet, now numbering 26 aircraft, has amassed more than 20,000 hr. and, along with the smaller in-service fleet of just three PW1500G-powered CS100s, has an engine dispatch reliability rate of more than 99%. “We delivered the first to Lufthansa in January and have since delivered to seven additional customers, the latest being Air Astana,” says Webb. Initial fuel-burn performance is on target at 16% better than the International Aero Engines V2500 baseline for judging GTF performance, while at least one carrier has reported an approximately 18% improvement on a delivery flight. “It is still early, but in terms of performance retention, it is spot on with predictions, and we are completely pleased with that,” notes Webb.

Pratt has now fixed the thorny issue of engine start time, a problem that prompted Qatar Airways to, so far, cancel delivery of its first four aircraft. Software and hardware changes introduced during the year have brought the engine “to within industry-typical start times,” explains Webb. “The goal is to fix things fast and minimize [operational] impacts.” Several A320neos in Qatar livery remain in long-term storage in Toulouse and, according to Airbus figures, the airline retains firm orders for 30 A320neos and 16 A321neos. However, Qatar also has signed a letter of intent for up to 60 Boeing 737-8s in response to its Airbus-related issues.

Engine deliveries early in 2017 also are scheduled to include PW1900Gs for Embraer’s first production E190-E2, which continues to undergo flight tests in Brazil.

Irkut, meanwhile, recently completed power-on of the first PW1400G-equipped MS-21 airliner and is assembling the second airframe. “We are working on engines for that,” says Webb. The PW1400G and PW1900G are based on the PW1100G and PW1500G, respectively.

Certification testing continues of the PW1200G engine, which is powering the first four Mitsubishi MRJ90 test aircraft. Although originally equipped with a smaller version of the hybrid fan blade used in the larger geared turbofans, Pratt and Mitsubishi opted to switch to a solid titanium design for improved performance and damage tolerance.

“We are tickled with how well that fan has performed,” says Webb. “It has gone through certification and flight operability testing flawlessly, and operability is where we want it to be. We completed fan-stress, fan blade-out and bird-strike tests and are just beginning the 150-hr. triple-red-line certification evaluation. We should complete that in the next couple of months.”

The fourth MRJ90 made its first flight in Japan Nov. 22. Two flight-test aircraft have been transferred to the U.S., where Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. is conducting the majority of flight testing toward the regional jet’s certification. Two more MRJ90s are expected to be transferred to Mitsubishi Aircraft’s U.S. flight testing base at Moses Lake, Washington, by year-end.