Rick Deurloo on how Pratt & Whitney is helping airlines fly more sustainably

If aviation is to fly in clear skies by 2050, powered by carbon-neutral propulsion systems while delivering social and economic benefits worldwide, it must get there from a standing start.

In early 2020, the industry was effectively grounded, slamming shut revenue sources. Two years later, the green shoots of recovery are only just becoming apparent. That gives aviation less than three decades to finance sustainability in every aspect of operations.

The GTF engine

Pratt & Whitney is determined to help airlines recover and achieve their goal of net-zero carbon emissions.

Of course, Pratt & Whitney has had to weather a formidable storm too. “But one of the biggest lessons we learned from the pandemic is the resilience of our people,” says Rick Deurloo, Pratt & Whitney’s President, Commercial Engines. “They had to be creative and resourceful, and they were. The focus on our customers had to be exemplary.”

Customer service ranged from daily webinars on best practice for storing engines to flexible maintenance plans to revised payment schedules. The biggest decision, however, was to double down on upgrades to its GTF engine, continuing to improve it even as the horizon darkened.

This commitment to the GTF fleet is already paying dividends as the utilization rate of the engine is the highest in industry. 

“Investing in the GTF was the right move, even though it was a big commitment at the time,” says Deurloo. “Everybody had to make tough choices. At Pratt & Whitney, we did not cut as deep as others because we had confidence in the GTF. We knew that it would come back quickly.”

That confidence has been vindicated, with a strong recovery in the single-aisle sector. And as Pratt & Whitney largely maintained its skilled workforce, both the short and long-term future looks secure.

The continuing development of the GTF engine during the pandemic led to the December 2021 announcement of the GTF Advantage, which offers a further 1% efficiency gain compared with today’s GTF and up to 34,000lb of take-off thrust. This will be especially beneficial for A321XLR operators, as well as those who fly out of hot and high airports. The engine will also be compatible with 100% sustainable aviation fuels.

“Essentially, modifications in the compressor give us improved efficiency,” says Deurloo. “But the engine is so much more than that. We have enhanced ability for real-time monitoring, for example. Everything has been optimized to give our customers what they need.”

The GTF Advantage is planned to enter service in 2024 as the new production standard and will serve the Airbus A320neo family.

Market dynamics

Pratt & Whitney needed to get its strategy right to help its customers as the markets rebounded.

“The bounce back has been stronger than we thought,” explains Deurloo. “US domestic travel is almost reaching pre-pandemic

levels and traffic is building in Europe too. Once we get through the short-term disruptions in Asia-Pacific that will be the biggest region for growth again. Both China and India have enormous potential. Pure demographics will tell you that these are going to be big markets.”

To maintain its core customer focus, Pratt & Whitney is examining how to deploy more teams into the field in those regions. They have already invested in production and MRO facilities and run training centers in Beijing and India.

There is a short-term challenge though. Because of the pick-up in demand in 2022, Pratt & Whitney must manage its supply chain carefully. Most materials for the engine hardware are outsourced. So, though the technicians are available to build the engines, the parts they need have been harder to secure. The company is working closely with suppliers to mitigate the impacts.

“We have to keep up with demand,” says Deurloo. “Of course, you can’t escape a crisis of such magnitude without some fundamental shifts in the markets and new business models. But Pratt & Whitney is a growth company, and 2022 and 2023 will be huge years because of our strength in the narrowbody segment.

“GTF engines are very well positioned, and the Embraer E2, Airbus A220 and GTF-powered A320neo families have become industry benchmarks in fuel efficiency and sustainability,” he adds. “These platforms deliver an incredible range of options. Whether you’re a regional operator or fly transatlantic routes, we can deliver world-class economics across multiple fleets.”

“Everything has been optimized to give our customers what they need” - Rick Deurloo, Pratt & Whitney, President, Commercial Engine

The right stuff

In fact, the GTF has already clocked up over 13 million flight hours. And the benefits of the engine will only be heightened when the GTF Advantage takes to the skies.

The engines will be complemented by sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). These are the least disruptive of all sustainable solutions available immediately. Aircraft are certified to fly on 50-50 blends but 100% SAF is on the horizon. Hybrid-electric propulsion is a little further on and the big hope will be hydrogen-powered propulsion systems, probably in the mid-2030s.

“Every conversation with our customers is about sustainability,” says Deurloo. “And the agenda is accelerating. But Pratt & Whitney is in a great position. We have the right balance sheet, the right structure, and the right people. But most of all we have the right engines. They are the best predictor of how the company will perform. Our products are leading the field in efficiency and sustainability and will continue to do so.”

Rick Deurloo, President, Commercial Engines

Images supplied by Pratt & Whitney

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