Frontier Airlines just signed an agreement with Pratt & Whitney for new P&W GTF engines. And this marks a change from their previous engine choice.
After going through some strategic and ownership changes, Frontier is now an ‘Ultra Low-Cost Carrier’ in the US. They have pursued a fleet renewal, taking on large numbers of A320neo aircraft. And interestingly, none of these Frontier Airbuses have P&W engines. So far, the airline has picked up 60 A320neos, all of them with CFM LEAP-1A engines.
Rick Deurloo, CEO of P&W, had this to say about Frontier’s engine order:
“It is with immense pride and excitement that we welcome Frontier Airlines to the Pratt & Whitney family. With the GTF engine, Frontier will be getting more than fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility; Pratt & Whitney will be with Frontier every step of the way, supporting their operations for decades to come.”
Frontier placed its latest Airbus order in 2017. The exact numbers between types have changed a couple of times already. They now consist of 49 A320neos, 67 A321neos and 18 A321XLRs. That’s 134 new Frontier aircraft in total, that will get P&W Geared TurboFan (GTF) engines. This is quite a big win, for Pratt & Whitney. And it has extra significance because previously, such decision changes went in the opposite direction.
Frontier – Choosing P&W, Issues and… Onlookers
Frontier’s choice follows P&W’s success in having its GTF engines selected for many new aircraft. Among them are the A320neo, the Embraer E2-Jet, the Airbus A220 and the Russian Irkut MC-21. The engine uses a gear reduction system, to slow down the fan disk. This allows the different parts of the engine to operate at different speeds, more efficiently. The system delivers on its efficiency promise – so much so that GE is challenging P&W’s patent for it.
However, Frontier’s choice for these P&W engines is important, because their introduction to service was far from trouble-free. A220s and A320neo-family jets experienced engine shutdowns in flight, sometimes with damage to the engines. Hot and humid conditions, material choice and software bugs were part of the equation. The company has now fixed these issues, but not before some commercial losses.
Unlike Frontier, IndiGo, that first chose P&W engines, picked LEAP-1A engines for its most recent contract. And this was the largest single airliner engine contract in history… so it really mattered. IndiGo faced a very large proportion of those early teething GTF engine issues. So, this change in engine suppliers did not come as a surprise.
And that story is far from over. IndiGo will be looking with interest at this Frontier – P&W contract. IndiGo has another 300 Airbus orders. And they are discussing with CFM and P&W for the engines of 150 of them. This contract will be worth $10-11 billion.
As we can see, Airbus’ choice of two engines for its A320neo family, is keeping engine makers on their toes. And the drive for better efficiency, probably means this will continue! Stay tuned.