Pratt & Whitney unveiled the GTF Advantage, a more powerful and efficient variant of its Geared Turbofan engine, for Airbus A320neo variants.
Pratt & Whitney made the announcement about its new engine on Thursday. The manufacturer is one of two options that airlines and lessors have when it comes to the Airbus A320neo family. The other option is CFM’s LEAP-1A engine. CFM is a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Safran (formerly Snecma).
The new P&W engine will offer A320neo customers a 1% efficiency gain. This is not an insignificant amount, at an age when airlines are looking for minute savings, wherever possible. But also, the new engines will have 4% more thrust. And this offers performance gains, that will matter to some operators.
From an operational point of view, the new P&W engine variant will also have longer maintenance cycles. More time spent on the wing between services means lower maintenance costs, and less revenue lost from the plane sitting in a hangar. These are factors that all airlines value immensely. Still operationally, the 4% higher thrust could really benefit airlines operating in “hot and high” conditions. This is the case for operators in China and India, among other markets.
New P&W GTF Advantage A Realistic Option
P&W is stressing that their new A320neo engine is not a paper project. The company is already flying it, on its 747 testbed. It should enter service in 2024. This is interesting because 2023 sees the arrival of the A321XLR. And we already know that Airbus wants more power for this plane. The XLR has a higher gross weight than other A321neos.
Also, we have seen that Airbus is contemplating the introduction of an A321neo factory freighter. Such an aircraft would certainly benefit from a higher gross weight, having corresponding needs in power output. However, this doesn’t appear to be a high-priority project, for Airbus. But other projects could be, depending on what Airbus’ main competitor does.
The new P&W engine could allow Airbus to proceed with other new A320neo variants. The manufacturer is working on a new composite wing, possibly for its A320 family. Airbus could also overhaul the A320neo family, “rejigging” the length of its jets (A322neo, A320.5neo). However, the manufacturer doesn’t need to do any of this, unless Boeing presents something… challenging.
Returning to Pratt & Whitney, it states that it is possible to have further improvements in the GTF engine family, that powers the A320neo. Efficiency improvements, in particular, could even reach double digits. This would be phenomenal, considering that the current engines are already 16% more efficient than those they replaced, five years ago!
Competition and Future Production Rates
Here, Pratt & Whitney likely has an eye on CFM and its open fan (or open rotor) RISE project (above). P&W would certainly have an advantage if the current GTF engine could give such improvements to the A320neo. Currently, CFM is leading P&W, with approximately 60% of the A320neo orders. But interestingly, Pratt & Whitney doesn’t necessarily need to reverse this balance. Rather, the engine maker wants to focus on finding customers that fly their planes a lot.
Engine makers make a substantial portion of their income from engine maintenance. So P&W now says that it wants to be more selective, in finding the right A320neo engine customers. This usually means low-cost carriers, who do quick turnarounds and put many hours through relatively new airliners. Companies like India’s IndiGo come to mind. IndiGo has yet to pick an engine for approximately 300 A320neo-family jets.
Finally, the engine maker wants to meet Airbus’ production demands, for 2023. P&W and its engine competitor for the A320neo family both have reservations for Airbus’ plans beyond that year. As we’ve seen, Airbus believes the demand is already there. But this has been a point of contention between the manufacturer, lessors and engine makers.
Engines have their own complex supply chains. And the pandemic “burned” a lot of investment that engine makers and other suppliers had just made. In any case, it will be interesting to see if CFM reacts to this engine news from Pratt & Whitney. Its open fan RISE project isn’t due until much later, in the mid-2030s.