General Electric Co. (GE) and rival jet- engine maker Pratt & Whitney are adding more than 2,000 U.S. jobs as the world’s biggest planemakers ramp up production and introduce more fuel-efficient aircraft.
GE is adding more than 1,000 U.S. workers, bringing total employment to 18,000 in states from the Carolinas to Ohio and Alabama amid record output. Pratt & Whitney plans more than 800 jobs, including in its home state of Connecticut, with 500 engineers tied to geared turbofan engines powering Airbus SAS’s A320neo and Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B)’s CSeries.
Airbus, the biggest commercial planemaker, and Boeing Co., the second-largest, are building single-aisle jets at a record pace and preparing to boost output of wide-body models including the A380 superjumbo and the 787 Dreamliner as customers update fleets with more fuel-efficient jets. GE Aviation announced a second plant in Mississippi yesterday, bringing its workers in the state to more than 600 by 2016.
“We have to be ready for these ramp rates, and we are,” David Joyce, who heads GE’s aviation business, said in an interview last month. “I spend more time working on production readiness and manufacturing technologies now than I have in any previous year.”
Boeing and Toulouse, France-based Airbus are competing for sales of narrow-body planes, which make up the biggest slice of the commercial-jet market and have been dominated by Boeing’s 737, the most widely flown plane.
Output of current and upgraded 737 models will probably reach 50 to 60 planes a month by decade’s end, above the current goal of 42 by 2014, Boeing Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney said yesterday. CFM International, a 50-50 partnership of GE and Safran SA, makes the only engine available on either plane.
American’s Record Order
Airbus decided to upgrade engines on its narrow-body A320 in December, and the result, the A320neo, has since captured more than 1,000 orders or commitments to become the fastest- selling jet ever.
Chicago-based Boeing, which considered building an all-new plane, decided last week to use its rival’s strategy instead and captured 200 planes out of a record order for 460 jets from AMR Corp.’s American Airlines.
Boeing’s decision to offer only CFM’s Leap-X on its 737 upgrade heightens competition with Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan for placement on the A320neo. The neo offers both engines, which vaulted Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corp. (UTX), back into the narrow-body aircraft market.
‘Do or Die’
“For us, this engine was ‘do or die’ in the large commercial market for the next several decades,” Bob Saia, who runs new programs for Pratt & Whitney, said during a tour of the Connecticut manufacturing complex where the geared turbofan engine will be made. “Four years ago, I had 50 engineers on this program. This year, we’ll hire 500.”
The A320neo is slated to begin flying in 2015, with the first jet powered by Pratt & Whitney’s engine, while Bombardier’s CSeries, with fewer seats, will enter service in 2013. Engines will also be made in Mirabel, near Bombardier’s Montreal headquarters.
Both Pratt’s geared turbofan and CFM’s Leap-X boast improvements of about 15 percent greater efficiency than current A320 power plants. Demand is so high for more fuel-efficient planes that Airbus in April moved its production timetable up six months.
Pratt & Whitney last week widened its forecast for a profit decline to $100 million as it spends more to ensure its geared turbofan is ready for production well ahead of time.
“The key here is to get ahead of the curve here and continue to make these investments to make sure that we’re ahead of the schedule,” United Technologies Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes told investors July 20. “Airbus obviously is anxious to get the engine out there.”
Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE predicted in June, before Boeing’s order from American, that aviation production would peak in the next 18 months. Commercial production might climb 13 percent to 2,480 engines in 2012, the company estimated then. GE’s aviation unit, based outside Cincinnati in Evendale, Ohio, has already added about 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 18 months. By 2014, there will be another 1,000 in the U.S.
“The American order in aviation really signals the return to equipment purchases by U.S. airlines, and I think that’s very significant,” GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said on a call with investors July 22.
GE’s wide-body engines, including the GE90, the GP7200 made in partnership with Pratt & Whitney and the GEnx engine, versions of which power the 747-8 exclusively and compete with Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc for the 787 Dreamliner, are also pushing production.
GE’s information technology center in Van Buren, Michigan, is helping develop a way to test-run mass production of products, including the composite blades in the GEnx engine, to work out kinks beforehand so that plants don’t have to halt production once they have begun.
Alternate production methods, like those used in a Durham, North Carolina, plant, have teams of workers following each engine through assembly by serial number rather than using traditional lines, which shaves costs.
GE Aviation has about 37,000 employees worldwide, while Pratt & Whitney has about 36,000.
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