Air Transport World

A broad battle on many fronts. (aircraft engines)

A choice of engines is expected, and available, on most existing airframes and nearly every airframe under development. But it was not ever so.

In the turbine-engine market's developing years, engine companies could establish a niche and ward off competitors, their products dominating without challenge. During the 1960s, manufacturers seemed more focused on open markets than in bumping up against an established competitor.

But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were no unfilled niches and manufacturers took notice of the impressive profits made when a product took off in one of those niches, the JT8D being the earliest example, then the CFM56-- thousands of engine sales followed by many decades of spares revenue. And once airlines got the taste of blood from the vicious engine-price competitions in widebodies, they campaigned for that option on smaller aircraft as well.

Accelerating the desire of engine manufacturers to be players in all of the civil contests was the end of the Soviet/NATO arms race. Even before the sudden collapse of communism several years ago, the writing was on the wall--defense spending would wind down. Attention must be paid to the civil market. No longer could manufacturers afford the luxury of leaving niches uncontested and customers demanded their presence.

In the battle to be on the largest number of aircraft with competitive offerings, Pratt & Whitney, formerly king of the monopoly slot, has an edge over GE Aircraft Engines, with Rolls-Royce trailing. Commitments that have been made assure that competition will remain fervid across the board.

The fight to maintain the quality of these competitive offerings involves three rolls of the dice at work in the Pratt/GE/Rolls battle. GE is betting its future domination of the large-engine market on an all-new core large enough to exceed the 100,000-lb.-thrust plateau comfortably with a large fan a composite fan. Pratt, on the other hand, is investing a great deal of hope and effort into developing its Advanced Ducted Prop technology that, if successful, could transform its entire line of engines, offering a step jump increase in fuel efficiency. …

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