Paris 2011: PWC gets serious about new turboprop

Paris Air Show » 2011
June 20, 2011, 6:45 AM

The first raw materials for Pratt & Whitney Canada’s new regional turboprop demonstrator have begun to arrive at the company’s Longueuil plant in Quebec as technicians prepare to assemble the compression system for the NGRT (next-generation regional turboprop). In an interview with AIN ahead of this week’s Paris Air Show, PWC vice president of marketing Richard Dussault revealed that the company has completed the design architecture and launched the demonstrator program, scheduled to culminate with a finished product some time next year.

“We’ve released the drawings and are in the process of machining the first components,” said Dussault, who noted that the company would initially test the parts individually this summer as part of a schedule that calls for running of the compressor system by the end of this year or early next year.  “We now believe that we have all the ingredients to bring an engine to market that will be successful as the PW100 has been and as the PW150 is,” said Dussault. 

Foremost among those ingredients ranks PWC’s Talon low-NOx combustor technology used for years in its big turbofans and a central feature of the PurePower series of geared turbofan engines now under development for the narrowbody market. While the Talon combustor cuts NOx emissions in half, according to the company, overall greenhouse gas emissions will decline at least in proportion to the 20-percent fuel burn improvement on which airlines insist for a new turboprop such as the NGRT.

“Secondly, [the airlines] generally want larger aircraft,” said Dussault. “That’s obviously not under our control. The airframers have got to decide the size of airplane they want. But I would generally say that you’re probably going to see development of 70-plus-seat aircraft into the future and we definitely see a need for a 90-passenger type aircraft.”

In response, PWC plans to size its new turboprop to produce anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 shp, along with the capability to move into a range closer to 8,000 shp. Dussault wouldn’t venture to predict what might come first–a 70-seat replacement or a 90-seat turboprop, from either Bombardier or ATR. “I think it could go both ways; somebody could start with a 70-seat aircraft and then grow to 90, or equally they could start with a 90-seat aircraft,” he said. “The product technology that we have, the architecture we selected, could scale across a power range that would accommodate both.”

After the company tests the new engine’s compressor system, the job falls to its engineers to run the engine as a full gas generator–essentially the core, said Dussault. “After launch of a program with a customer, you would configure a gearbox and power turbines and so on, but I think the key for us is to run the compression system,” he added. Once it reaches that milestone, the engine maker hopes to officially launch the program and test the demonstrator core next year. Given those assumptions, it expects it could ready an engine for certification sometime in 2015 or 2016.

Once the program reaches its flight-test phase, likely in 2014, PWC plans to attach an engine to a wing-like stub built into the upper deck of the fuselage on one of Pratt & Whitney’s Boeing 747 test beds for flight testing from its new test and assembly facility at Mirabel, Quebec–also site of PW1000G GTF trials. 

The design would offer an optimum range of between 200 and 600 nm, said Dussault, and target a niche that had once belonged to smaller turboprops but has become saturated with less fuel-efficient 50-seat jets. Now powering both the Bombardier Q400 and ATR 42/72, as well as China’s MA60, Pratt & Whitney Canada would hope to maintain its existing customer base to best justify the development cost, an estimate of which Dussault declined to offer.

“I think that’s obviously our goal,” he said. “The market has been good for Pratt & Whitney, and we have been able to develop a lot of products for it. At a certain point in time there were many other platforms, there were a lot of players, it was a growth market and then there was the era of the jet for the longer range, which sort of dominated for a while. But today it’s a more stable market and we generally think with the price of fuel there’s a lot of potential…Until there is an offer out there, there will be a limit to how big and how fast the market can grow.”

Regardless of the eventual size of the market, it seems clear Pratt & Whitney does not want to concede any of its current partnerships to GE, which has talked of using the core of the GE38 military turboshaft as the basis for a new turboprop to power an airplane carrying between 80 and 90 seats. GE, which owns Dowty Propellers and whose Middle River Aircraft Systems subsidiary holds a stake in Nexcelle, says it can develop and supply a complete propulsion system by 2015. Of course, Pratt & Whitney parent United Technologies also owns propeller maker Hamilton Sundstrand, which, said Dussault, would contribute to any integration effort with PWC.

Although Pratt has projected a market for some 3,000 regional turboprop engines over the next 20 years, Dussault considers the estimate conservative, he said, given the forecast assumed $90-a-barrel jet fuel. “Even today, we’ve blown through this,” he noted.

Bombardier and ATR have each talked about introducing turboprops larger than their respective Q400 and ATR 72, but neither has offered much detail recently about its plans. Officially, Bombardier continues to gauge market interest in its proposed Q400X, the launch of which Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Gary Scott said last year likely won’t happen until “mid-decade, or a little later.” ATR, meanwhile, has recently gained certification for its 600 series, equipped with more powerful PW127M engines and new Thales avionics. Although at the 2010 Regional Airline Association convention in Milwaukee, ATR vice president of marketing Mario Formica called 2011 “an important year for a decision” on a larger turboprop, company executives have recently pointed to next year as a more likely timeframe.

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