Photo: Pratt & Whitney
Today’s airline industry is operating with razor thin profit margins, and one of the major reasons is the high — and rising — cost of fuel.A new development from Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corporation, could cut fuel use by a whopping 15 per cent, potentially yielding huge savings for airlines.
The key, Daniel Fisher at Forbes reports, is the addition of an 18-inch gearbox to the front of the jet engine.
It slows down the plane’s turbines, making the bypass fans more efficient, as they operate better at lower speeds. That efficiency yields a significant drop in fuel use.
Called the Fan Drive Gear System, the new gearbox has the added benefit of making the engine quieter, a bonus for airlines looking to add flights in urban areas where noise levels are a concern.
The importance of fuel-efficiency to the airline industry is proved by the seriousness of the problems with Boeing’s new Dreamliner passenger jet. The passenger jet uses a large, powerful lithium-ion battery that allows for the replacement of some mechanical components with electrical systems, saving weight and fuel.
Photo: Pratt & Whitney
But that battery is believed to be the cause of several onboard fires, which prompted the FAA to issue an emergency airworthiness directive last week, leading to the worldwide grounding of the 50 Dreamliners Boeing has delivered.Now airlines are left with expensive planes they cannot fly until further notice, and Boeing has suspended deliveries on the hundreds of jets airlines have already ordered.
While the fuel-efficient Dreamliner is yielding only problems for Boeing, Pratt & Whitney is already reaping the profits of the $1 billion it put into developing the Fan Drive Gear System. In the world of aircraft manufacturing, that is a minor investment.
This month, Embraer became the fifth aircraft manufacturer to select Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower Geared Turbofan engine, for use in its second generation of regional E-Jets. That engine uses the new Fan Drive Gear System.
Forbes gives the credit for the windfall to United Technologies Corporation CEO Louis Chênevert, who made the gamble on adding the gearbox to the engine, which posed considerable complications.
Furthermore, the revenue Pratt & Whitney gets from new contracts converts directly into profit, because Chênevert chose to fund research costs with current earnings, rather than capitalise them.
Meanwhile, Boeing is still waiting to see a return on the $32 billion it invested in the efficient Dreamliner.
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