GE plans to build turboprop family in Prague

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General Electric appears set to expand its production facility for the H80 engine in Prague, making it the group's centre for a future family of turboprop powerplants.

GE acquired Czech manufacturer Walter Engines in 2008 - which produced the M601 small turboprop engine at the time - to gain a foothold in the civilian propeller market. But the US group wants to expand its presence in the sector with other engines.

Under the new ownership, the M601 was updated through material and aerofoil improvements in the engine core, and rebranded H80. GE introduced 3D aerofoils in the compressor and turbine, and replaced the first two individually bladed compressor stages with blisks. The turbine nozzle guide vane material was changed from steel to titanium for greater temperature resistance. But the overall engine and ancillary equipment remained unchanged. Performance grew from 750shp to 850shp, while specific fuel consumption fell by 8% and time between overhauls increased from 3,000h to 3,600h, says GE.

Walter's customer reach was also improved by growing the number of number of authorized service centres from three facilities in 2010 - outside the manufacturing plant in Prague - to 51 international sites today. GE also extended its "OnPoint" aftermarket service programme from its large commercial engines to the general aviation powerplant.

The manufacturer wants to address the small turboprop market, which is dominated by Pratt & Whitney's PT6 and Honeywell's TPE331 engine families, more aggressively. While around 600 M601 and 50 H80 powerplants are in the market today - after M601 production began in 1975 - GE targets a near-quadrupling of the number of engines over the next 10 years.

The H80 has been certificated for the Aircraft Technologies Let 410 utility twin, Thrush 510G agricultural aircraft and, as a retrofit option, Beechcraft King Air 90. The M601 was employed on the same types - or respective predecessors - as well as a number of other aircraft.

The H80 has also been selected by China's Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company (CAIGA) for the Primus 150 single-engine general aviation aircraft - which is due to fly for the first time by early 2014 - and Russia's Technoavia for its Rysachok utility twin.

But more aircraft applications will be necessary to meet the 2,400-engine target until 2023. Robert Levin, engineering executive, says that the present certifications are "just the beginning" and that GE aims to attract more aircraft applications across the PT6 market.

In 2012, the Prague facility manufactured 54 H80 engines and overhauled 127 M601 engines. For 2013, GE aims to build around 80 and overhaul 110 engines. The company says it could "easily" double to the current production volume.

But there appears to be scope for even greater expansion of GE's footprint in Prague. Dubbed BGA Turboprops - with BGA standing for business and general aviation - the division is to become the manufacturer's centre of excellence for turboprop engines, says Jim Stoker, president and managing executive of the unit.

This could even include the projected CPX 38 engine, a derivative of the existing military GE38 turboshaft engine that is being studied at GE's headquarters as a powerplant for a potential 90-seater regional aircraft, he says. The CPX38 programme has not been launched yet.

Stoker adds that the "H80 is obviously not where we stop".