Pratt & Whitney is considering building an engine for the Airbus SAS A350 long-haul plane to challenge Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc’s monopoly on the new aircraft, people familiar with the plan said.
Pratt & Whitney would offer an engine based on its PW1000G geared turbofan technology, said the people, who asked not to be named because the plan isn’t public. A decision to formally pursue the program may come as soon as this year, one of the people said.
Airbus had originally sought a second engine offering to Rolls-Royce’s TrentXWB on its A350. It had failed to persuade either General Electric Co., which powers the competing Boeing Co. 777, or Pratt & Whitney, which was tied up developing the geared turbofan. Airlines including Air France-KLM have said they’d welcome a choice because it would give them leverage on maintenance, a major source of revenue for Rolls-Royce.
Airbus, based in Toulouse in France, would have to sign off on the Pratt plan before airlines could opt for the engine. The company is “happy that the one engine we have on offer has already achieved 617 sales,” spokeswoman Marcella Muratore said. “However we have always said that we would consider other offers if they are competitive in terms of performance.”
“As Pratt & Whitney looks ahead to powering future wide-body applications, we will scale the geared turbofan architecture to the required thrust levels,” the company said in an e-mailed request for comment. “We continue to keep all airframers informed of our progress on the PW1000G family, including studies with Airbus for potential wide-body applications.”
Pratt & Whitney’s A350 engine would have to be more than twice as powerful as its existing versions. The company, a subsidiary of Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., has undertaken studies that show the leap can be made even if technical hurdles must be overcome, one person said.
The engine maker remains interested in using its technology to power big jets, Bob Saia, who oversees Pratt’s next-generation products, said in an interview this month. Pratt decided not to compete for a spot on the upgraded version of Boeing’s 777 due around the end of the decade, a program drawing interest from GE and Rolls-Royce, the industry leaders.
Development of Pratt engines for regional and single-aisle jets is nearing an end, with the turbines in flight testing. That’s freed up resources to pursue a slot on larger airliners.
Rolls has won exclusive rights from Airbus to offer the TrentXWB on the A350-1000, the largest model, while its position on the -900, the first and most popular version, and on the smaller -800, can be challenged.
The A350 is set for its maiden flight in the middle of this year. The aircraft’s small and mid-sized variants compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, while the large model is positioned against the popular 777, which boasts the world’s largest engine made by GE.
European safety authorities gave their approval this month to the TrentXWB ahead of first flight on an A350-900. The engine has already flown on an A380 test bed.
Air France has been trying to gain rights to maintain turbines from Rolls-Royce as part of a long-planned order for A350s. Failure to strike an accord between the airline, which wants to bolster its technical unit, and the engine maker, which wants to protect its profitable after-sales income, has delayed a deal.
The airline, which has already place a firm order for 787 Dreamliners, plans to have an accord with Airbus on the A350 by the end of this year, Chief Executive Office Jean-Cyril Spinetta said today.