Pratt and Whitney's efforts to boost reliability on the geared turbofan (GTF) will extend into 2018, with more engines redirected from OEM-delivery stock to airline spares pools and possibly another design improvement on the No. 3 bearing compartment carbon air seals, parent company United Technologies Corp. (UTC) says.
"We had a commitment to Airbus, we had a commitment to Bombardier, to deliver a certain number of engines this year to support their aircraft production plans," UTC President and CEO Greg Hayes told analysts Oct. 24. "We made a decision in late September…that we were going to redirect the number of spares to our airline customers to make sure that they had enough assets to be able to fly their planes every day."
While the move has helped get in-service aircraft back flying, it has left newly built airframes waiting for engines. Just how many is unclear, however, as the engine-maker is not breaking out its spares-vs.-OEM-delivery split. Pratt shipped 120 GTFs in the third quarter, nearly doubling its first-half output of 134, which was plagued by nagging supply-chain issues tied to fan-blade production. The uptick has Pratt on pace to meet its full-year guidance of 350-400 engines delivered, though not all of them will end up on new aircraft.
"It was unfortunate that we couldn't meet our commitments to Airbus and Bombardier, but they understood the need to keep the airline customers up flying and we've done the right thing for the business in the long-term," Hayes said.
UTC is couching the spares allocation as an early investment in stocks that needed to be built up as the fleet grows.
"Over the years, there is a certain ratio of spare pools to the number of engines that you have out in the field," said UTC CFO Akhil Johri. "All we are doing is doing that investment earlier than what would've happened over the next couple of years. I think we probably have one more year of similar level of investment in spare pools, but then that level of overall spares will help manage the growing fleet at GTF in 2019 and 2020."
The bearing-seal issue would be an extension of an in-service fix that affected operators flying in particularly harsh environments, notably India, and was largely completed earlier this year.
"Production engines began receiving upgraded hardware back in the second quarter of this year and the ongoing retrofits were completed out in the field," Hayes said. "While we're still seeing some success with the actions we've taken to date, we're also looking at design alternatives that are expected to further improve durability of the engine."