China Tempts Pratt as Engine Makers Seek New Customers

Pratt & Whitney said it’s working with Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd. on proposals for a new wide-body jet after Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS, the biggest planemakers, opted for other power plants.

Pratt, the engine division of United Technologies Corp., is promoting a higher-thrust version of the geared-turbofan it has developed for the single-aisle Airbus SAS A320 and Bombardier Inc. CSeries models, President David Hess said in an interview.

“They might see applications for the engine on one of the aircraft they have on the drawing board,” Hess said last week at the Paris Air Show.

Winning work on a future Chinese wide-body would be a boost for Pratt, which hasn’t offered its own engine for that class of planes since the 1987 debut of a model used on Boeing 747s, 767s and Airbus A330s. It would support United Technologies Chief Executive Officer Louis Chenevert’s focus on aviation after buying Goodrich Corp. for $16.5 billion in 2012.

Comac “will probably become the fifth important player” in planemaking after Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer SA, Chenevert said at the air show. “Every new platform is an opportunity.”

Pratt’s only recent win for engines on long-range planes came via an accord with General Electric Co. to power the Airbus A380. GE has sole rights for engines on the 747-8 and a similar deal for the future 777X, from which Pratt dropped out, and competes with Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc on the 787. U.K.-based Rolls-Royce provides an alternative engine for the A380 and currently has exclusivity on the Airbus A350.

Wide-Body Study

While Comac is currently focused on the C919 short-haul plane, the Shanghai-based company said June 5 that a pre-study into a possible wide-body model was under way, adding last week in an e-mailed response to questions that “it’s still too early to get foreign suppliers involved.”

GE, the world’s largest engine maker, is aware of the Comac studies, according to Bill Fitzgerald, vice president for commercial engine operations. The company is “not in detailed discussions,” he said.

Tony Wood, Rolls-Royce’s new head of aircraft engines, said the company has “close relations” with all major airframers. In Comac’s case, “we know them and we will stay close on their emerging requirement,” he said at the Paris show.

A wide-body venture in China would build on steps that have seen the country become Rolls-Royce’s third-largest market, swollen by a marine unit that Wood used to head. The manufacturer also has a major maintenance facility in Hong Kong to support local airlines.

While China aims to make its own turbines, progress on the CJ1000, designed for the C919, has been slow, said Egon Behle, CEO of Germany’s MTU Aero Engines AG, which is assisting the project through technology studies with Comac’s AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine. “We’re not expecting quick results.”

Wide-body planes offer higher margins than single-aisle aircraft, and China isn’t the only source of new business on the horizon. Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. also is contemplating a 200- to 300-seat plane, CEO Mikhail Pogosyan said at the Paris show.