PARIS: Interview - P&W president David Hess

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Rallying the troops is a tangible objective for Pratt & Whitney president David Hess as he prepares his workforce for an onslaught of new engine work that will yield a doubling of the company's $13 billion a year revenue by 2020.

At a recent leadership conference held in a hangar at P&W's home campus in Hartford, Connecticut, Hess synchronised the future with 250 company executives from around the world for two days. "I feel pretty good about the talent we have here," says Hess. "We have a big ramp-up in front of us, but one thing really helping us is that we laid out a family strategy quite awhile ago and now we're following our playbook."

That ramp-up includes orders to date for more than 1,200 PurePower geared turbofan narrowbody engines for four new civilian aircraft types; hundreds of PW4000 engines for the 179 KC-46A tankers awarded to Boeing by the US Air Force, and perhaps thousands of F135 engines through the increasingly likely monopoly position for the US military's Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme.

"We plan to take back market share," says Hess of the company's commercial airline products, which today have less than 30% market share in the widebody sector and only 17% in the narrowbody segment. Key to the thrust is the new PurePower geared turbofan engines, which in the run-up to Paris had the distinction of being the power choice for Airbus A320neo customers over the competing CFM Leap-X offering.

pw1524, pratt & whitney
 © Pratt & Whitney

"We know that it's not going to be 100% going forward. [CFM] will win some orders," says Hess. "We're proud that ours is much further along in development. That's why we had some of the success we've had in the market."

First to put the geared turbofan into revenue operations will be Bombardier with the CSeries narrowbody airliner in late 2013, followed by a sole-source application on the Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet in 2014, and a split-bill with CFM International on the A320neo in 2015.

Hess says P&W has three engines in test as of May, two for the CSeries and one for the MRJ, but that 14 engines will be up and running by year's end. To date, Hess says testing of the new design has yielded "normal development programme learnings" with "nothing of concern" turning up. "This proves everything we've been asserting in the marketplace," he says, including a 16% reduction in fuel burn. Beyond the four airframe wins, Hess says P&W is talking to Comac about a potential second engine choice for the C919 (CFM is the sole Western engine at the moment), to Embraer about a follow-on to the E-170/190 family and to Boeing about its plans for either a re-engined 737 and/or a clean-sheet narrowbody design. "Hopefully there'll be more good news to come in the future," Hess says.

While GE continues to self-fund its competing JSF engine in partnership with Rolls-Royce, Hess feels that the F136 alternate engine battle is breathing its final gasps in the aisles of the US Congress. "The merits of our arguments have finally prevailed. It's a victory for the taxpayer," he says.

"For the defence department, including the warfighter, they made it clear they don't want or need [the F136]. This increases the revenue options for JSF. It's a big growth engine for the foreseeable future. We're planning a ramp-up in production in the middle part of the decade."

The conclusion of the USAF's long-disputed aerial tanker programme, with Boeing's KC-46A tanker winning, will keep P&W's PW4000 production line healthy "over decades" given the 179 aircraft programme, Hess says.

Pratt & Whitney Canada has not been quite as healthy given the softness of that market, but Hess says growth there is on the horizon. After a 31% decrease in engine deliveries and revenues cut in half in 2009 and 2010, Hess says the market is "bottoming out" and will see positive gains in 2012. He says P&WC's next-generation turbofan, the PW800, is alive and well and he's "confident it will find a new home in the near future". The PW800 shares a common core design with the PurePower line of engines, helping to share the research, development and testing costs among several business units.

Most uncertain is the immediate future of company's Rocketdyne unit as NASA and the US government phase out the Space Shuttle programme and decide on the next phase of space exploration. However he says rocket motor work for the Lockheed Martin Atlas V and Delta IV programmes will keep the unit going.

It is also unclear what the future will hold for the company's successful hypersonic engine for the US Air Force. It is set for three more flights on the Boeing X-51A Waverider platform. The first flight in May 2010 set records by maintaining hypersonic combustion for 143s, 131s longer than earlier attempts by NASA. Ultimately the vehicle is due to fly for 300s at a speed of Mach 6.

Hess says the commercial engines aftermarket is "giving lift" to revenues, some of which is being driven by new shops in Shanghai and Istanbul. Included in the shop visits are IAE V2500 engines (P&W is a partner in IAE with Rolls-Royce, MTU and Japanese Aero Engines), GP7200 engines (P&W is a 50/50 partner with GE on the A380 engine option) and overhauls on competitor CFM's CFM56 turbofans.

Hess says there "could be news" in the expansion of its global MRO footprint later this year, along with possible new sales of the PurePower line into South America. "Those are important markets for us," he says. "The Brazilian economy is doing very well, as are airlines TAM, LAN and others. Embraer is an important customer - we hope to maybe put a geared turbofan there."

Along with a "big focus" in China and India and the substantial ramp-up in production stateside, P&W executives - and the 35,000 employees they manage - have their work cut out for them. "They can see the future, they can see the growth and they're excited to about executing," Hess notes.