by Guy Norris, originally published in AviationWeek on February 17th 2016


The new engine will use similar architecture to the PW1000G geared turbofan.

Pratt & Whitney says Boeing has fully embraced the concept of the geared turbofan (GTF), and is in discussion with the engine maker over its potential use for the new middle-of-the-market aircraft now in the early study phase.

“So many people pooh-poohed it,” says Pratt & Whitney president Bob Leduc of the PurePower Geared Turbofan. “Now virtually every airframer you go to, even Boeing, are all believers.” Pratt is “starting to have middle-of-the-market-airplane discussions,” with Boeing, and sees the project as a rare near-to-midterm opportunity to expand the geared turbofan family into the higher thrust bracket currently occupied by the out-of-production PW2000 and Rolls-Royce RB211-535.

“Right now the only airplane we see out there is Boeing’s middle-of-the-market airplane. The Airbus product line is basically set top to bottom,” says Leduc. Boeing is targeting the 220-seat-class area “. . . because the Airbus A321 is just killing them, particularly the A321 with the geared turbofan on it – and we have 71% of that market.”

In Leduc’s view, Boeing needs to move sooner rather than later to attack the gap in the Airbus lineup. “Boeing has got to do something, because the 737 cannot compete against it. So the question has got to be, do they do a new airplane, because they have got nothing between the A321 and the A330. Boeing has got a hole and they need to go and figure that out. I know Ray (Conner, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president) is working on it hard. He’d prefer to do a new airplane. We are in conversation with them, as is GE, as is everybody. This is how it works.”

From the engine architecture perspective Pratt is working with Boeing to evaluate whether the upgrade path already planned for the PW1100G, the largest member of the current GTF family, might support a scaled design to power the potential new aircraft development. “Or is it a brand-new core? It is so early they haven’t even defined the thrust requirement, though it is nominally 40,000 lb.,” says Leduc. “It’s all paper and is in their advanced group and in our advanced group. So it is all early days but we will figure it out. I certainly would love to get back on a Boeing airplane.”

While publicly saying nothing new on the middle of the market (MOM), Boeing is believed to be seeing a potential advantage to bringing the development forward. The company, which sees a market for at least 2,000 aircraft in this sector, is studying a 220- to 280-seat product with a range of 4,500 to 5,000 miles. The key question for the development is whether to link the MOM to plans for a successor to the 737 MAX. “That’s a really hard question to answer – obviously, we have got to sort through all of that,” says Scott Fancher, senior vice president and general manager of airplane development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “When we see an opportunity, we will take it.”