John Saabas took the reins as Pratt & Whitney Canada president in January 2009, and has overseen core testing of the manufacturer's PurePower PW800 turbofan for next-generation large-cabin business jets - 100 test hours completed so far - as well as ongoing evolution of its PT6 turboprop powerplants and the planning of its PW100/PW150 prop engines' replacement, to be preceded by a technology demonstrator next year
What is the focus of Pratt & Whitney Canada's presence at Farnborough? What will you be bringing to, and talking about, at the show?
We always talk about the fact that we're a company that believes in investing and believes in technology. If you look at the last 15 years we've certified about 70 engines over the last 15 years, 14 years, so it's a continuous investment in technology. We play in all marketplaces in our space, so all turboprops, all helicopter engines, and we have turbofan engines in service up to 8,000lb of thrust [35kN]. We're doing a core demonstrator that would put us in the 10-20,000lb thrust class as well: that's our PW800. The core running that we're doing is going very, very well for us.
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We also play in all the helicopter markets, so it's a great place for us to visit all our OEM customers in the helicopter world. We have a very strong belief as well in the aftermarket, in aftermarket network support. We have 45,000 or so engines flying around the world. We have them flying in 200 countries with 10,000 operators. So we've spent a lot of time focusing on customer service and that's also a very big part of what we talk about and what we do at the show. We'll also talk about a technology demonstrator we started for our next-generation regional turboprops to replace our PW100 family, in time.
We've built a brand-new facility just north of Montreal [at Mirabel] for our flight testing, as well as the testing of the PW800 engine and the CSeries engine. That's progressing well, and on schedule. The flight-ops part is open and the assembly and test side will be open at the end of this year or first quarter of next year.
What stage are you at with the PW800 programme?
There's two sides to it: there's a product family overall [at Pratt & Whitney level] where we've take a couple of cores and we're developed a product family around them, so the core of the [Bombardier] CSeries engine is also a core that we would use in the PW800 higher-thrust version, and the core from the MRJ [Mitsubishi Regional Jet] is the core that we would use for a lower-thrust, conventional business fan type of arrangement. That core development continues. We've gone through and we've completely mapped out the compressor. We're building it up now for a different optimisation run.
The CSeries engine, which is based on this core, will run some time Q3, Q4 of this year as well, and we will continue to compete our PW800. It's probably the most ready we've ever been for a competition. The technology's been demonstrated, the technology exists, and the other technologies associated with the engine - the combustor and those types of thing - have been demonstrated. We've got a technology-ready project, we've got an industrial plan in place and a new facility ready to assemble these engines, and we've put aftermarket readiness in place. We're out there competing the 800 and we hope that in one of the competitions that's out there we'll have a chance to be selected.
How close to formal programme launch is that next-generation turboprop engine, the PW100 replacement? To what extent has it been influenced by the geared turbofan project and Pratt & Whitney Canada's role within that?
What I always like to say is that our turboprop engines are geared turbofans, just with an infinite bypass ratio. We don't need to have that wall about our fan. But I don't think it influences that much. If you look at the geared turbofan, it's got a niche market. Take the CSeries for example: 110, 130 passengers, regional transport, longer distances. But there's [another] niche market out there I think: people in the 500nm [925km] range, maybe 700nm, looking for a way to have lower operating costs.
You take a turboprop against the engines that are out there today, you can have 40%, 50% improved fuel burn over a 500nm mission. In a geared turbofan that benefit reduces a little bit, but there will still be a benefit for sure. If you look in that 90-passenger range, larger turboprops may be slightly faster: I think there will still be a niche market. One of the things you can't change is the distance between two cities. That's always going to be the same.
What we're doing now is a core demonstrator. That's what we'll be talking about, demonstrating a new compressor that will be the heart of that engine. That demonstration project is in the design books right now. It will come into running next year some time.
Again, I don't think the market's in a real rush there. You've got to first let all the big guys finish the project they've got, to have the funding to go after this, but I think it's one of these areas that - with the focus on green, the focus on fuel consumption, operating costs and the fact that there's a lot of technologies out there that make the propeller engine or aircraft just as quiet, just as comfortable - this marketplace will emerge.
We just want it to be ready and have a technology-ready project. It's sort of been what we've focused on for the last many years, at Pratt & Whitney overall: what we call technology readiness, to make sure that when we do want to launch or a customer's ready, that we have something in hardware to show them, not just on paper.
What is the status of the PT6 reinvention project, and what applications do you envisage for the reinvented PT6?
I'm not sure we have a "reinvention" phase. The PT6 is something like 90 different build specs. There's not one PT6 out there that covers a whole range of powers, but the family of engines. Secondly, the PT6 benefits from having over 300 million field hours out there and a reliability that is benchmark in the industry.
We have a two-step approach with the PT6. One is, we continually invest in the PT6. The PT6s that came out 40 years ago are not the same as the PT6 today. They share the same name, but if you look at the diameter of a PT6, it's gone from 500shp [370kW] to up to 2,000 at OEI [one engine inoperative] rating with a 1in [25.4mm] increase in diameter, which means the technology over time has changed tremendously to allow us to keep extracting more and more power out of the same basic waist size, if you will.
We continue to invest in the PT6 and ensure that we continually upgrade, and when I say invest in the PT6, we do that in what we call small, medium and large: we have three different categories of PT6.
We're also looking longer term, whether or not there is something that could replace the PT6 - some people call it next-generation PT6 or whatever. That's something I would say is much more of an advanced design study, whereas these improvements I talked about are active: they're ongoing, we have budget every year to do that. And it's something that has really kept the PT6 bringing more and more value for our customers every year.
And we're very proud. We have our competitors who talk about 4,000 development hours; we have 300 million field hours. So there's something to be said about that.
Have you started to see signs of market recovery? Or is it still depressed after all the turmoil the industry has gone through?
It's really the business market that has taken the biggest beating. The one thing we have at Pratt Canada is, we're a little bit diversified, because the PT6 is in a lot of utility markets, agricultural spraying - which hasn't been affected at all.
The helicopter market is relatively solid. It's the business jets: certainly the medium to the light business jets are the ones that have taken the biggest impact and that's a bit slower to come back. I think 2011 will see some recovery on the markets. But we've always said, it'll probably be 2013, 2014 that we get back to 2008 levels.
Flying time is up, which is a good precursor for the fact that eventually there will be maintenance events required... It's still not back to where it was pre-2009 but it's picking up. That's very encouraging for us. It's picking up in all marketplaces. We look at our PW100 and the regionals, and the block times out there are flat, the fleet is growing a little bit, so the flying time is there. You look at the PT6, the airplanes that are flying with those engines: all of that's picking up as well. Helicopter flying is relatively stable... it's not like it's going gangbusters, but it's turning a corner.
There's a bit of a lead time, when things go bad, for us to feel it all the way; it takes a year and a half for us to feel when things start getting better as well.