The Next Big Thing is Less: Advances in Propulsion Technology Driving Aviation's Future
Pratt & Whitney President David P. Hess was the keynote speaker at the Aero Club of Washington's luncheon series earlier today in Washington, D.C. Approximately 150 industry, media and government officials were in attendance for the event.
With National Aerospace Week serving as a backdrop in the nation's capital, Hess highlighted the significant advances in aviation technology, crediting the industry's technical innovation with making flight more efficient. For instance, compared to 2000, fuel efficiency on U.S. domestic flights has improved 40 percent and on international flights it has improved 17 percent.
Hess also noted there could still be major advances ahead within the industry as it matures.
Good afternoon. I would like to thank David and the Aero Club for the gracious invitation to address you today.
It's great to be in Washington during National Aerospace Week. Last year, I was honored to be board chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association, a position held today by Wes Bush of Northrop Grumman, who is leading the charge on issues such as sequestration and NextGen funding.
The advocacy work that takes place during National Aerospace Week is important, because it reminds policymakers that the industry remains a vital source of manufacturing strength, jobs and exports for the nation.
We have a great story to tell about innovation that is good for American competitiveness, good for the industry and good for the planet, and there's no more important place to tell it than in our nation's capital.
I would also like to congratulate anyone from Bombardier who might be with us today. Monday marked the first flight of the new CSeries aircraft, up in Quebec. I had the great pleasure and privilege of seeing, and just as importantly, hearing - or rather not hearing - the Pratt & Whitney-powered Bombardier CSeries take off on its maiden flight. This aircraft, the first to fly exclusively propelled by our new Geared Turbofan™ engines, lifted off almost silently in front of the thousands of on-lookers.
One customer who ordered 10 CS300s – Air Baltic CEO Martin Gauss – watched the takeoff from just a few yards away. He told a reporter that he could hardly hear the takeoff. "This was one of the reasons why we bought it," he said, "along with the cost savings from lower fuel burn."
His observation speaks directly to the aircraft's innovative propulsion system, Pratt & Whitney's new PurePower engine, and why it is a true game-changer in terms of fuel efficiency, emissions, noise reduction and lower operating costs. I'll talk more about the PurePower engine in a moment …
One of our competitors, CFM, also deserves a nod. They started ground-testing their new Leap engine earlier this month. The Leap engine and our PurePower engine are examples of how the industry continues to innovate, and I just want to say that we welcome the competition, because it makes all of us better at what we do.
The larger point is that regardless of who is doing it, there is room for technical innovation, and it is alive and well in aviation. And although we've been flying for more than a century, we are still not a mature industry, and that means we can still make major advances as a result of bold technological steps.
Driven less by regulation and policy – and more by market forces – we are witnessing a revolution in aviation technology that has the potential to change everything – from the way we fly, to the quality of life in the communities served by our customers.
Today, I want to touch briefly on two technologies that have emerged as a result of major, long-term investment, and how partnerships with the research community and government have complemented the industry's commitment to make flight clean, green and more cost-effective.
The first is additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is being transformed by the aviation industry – from a technology focused on prototypes and concepts, to the production of finished, end-use parts.
Pratt & Whitney has been a leader in additive manufacturing for the past 25 years, and this technology is closely tied to our company's commitment to innovation and global competitiveness.
To date, we have used it to make more than 100,000 parts, including casting patterns, tooling, test rig hardware and direct metal parts. More than 2,000 additive manufactured metal prototypes have also been made to support developmental engine programs.
Through our funding of the University of Connecticut's Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center – and a variety of other partnerships with researchers across the country – Pratt & Whitney is going "all in" on this technology.
Additive manufacturing dramatically reduces time from design to finished product, saving up to 15 months in lead time compared to conventional manufacturing. It decreases waste and consumption of raw materials, and can account for a 50 percent weight reduction in a new part. It also reduces inventory in favor of on-site, just-in-time assembly.
The technology is real, it's proven and it's flying in our new PurePower Geared Turbofan engine. In fact, we are planning to incorporate more than 25 additive parts into the engine for the Bombardier CSeries.
This is just one way we're addressing the need to make aircraft greener and more efficient for operators.
The second way is through propulsion technology. More than anything else, this will continue to determine how effectively we confront the industry's greatest challenges.
Of course, I am biased with regard to engines and propulsion, but I'm comfortable saying that advances in engine technology have led to aviation's greatest leaps forward.
You can go as far back as the Wright Brothers' use of an aluminum crankcase at Kitty Hawk, or the first practical use of jet engines in the 1930s.
… Or to 1958, when Boeing rolled out the 707, and PanAm began transatlantic service using Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojet engines – the first 10,000-pound thrust engine class in the United States.
This signaled a revolution in air travel, and it came about because of advancements in propulsion.
But even in 1958, there was already room for improvement with regard to emissions, fuel efficiency and noise.
Improvement quickly followed in 1960, with the introduction of the turbofan. The turbofan led to an immediate increase in fuel efficiency and lower emissions. This trend continued with the introduction of the ultra high-bypass ratio engines that followed. Since then, engines have only become cleaner, greener and quieter.
Today, the average jetliner uses 70 percent less fuel per passenger since its introduction. The 787 Dreamliner is so efficient that it uses 20 percent less fuel than other aircraft of the same size. The Airbus A350 should yield similar savings when it goes into service.
One of Pratt & Whitney's contributions has been the geared turbofan engine, the second technology I wanted to highlight today.
A gear system on the engine uses a speed reduction gearbox between the low-pressure turbine and fan. This allows the engine's fan section to operate at a slow speed, and the low-pressure compressor and turbine to operate at much higher speeds.
This new engine – which we call PurePower – offers a 15 to 20 percent improvement in efficiency over the engines it replaces. These engines will cut carrier operating costs by 20 percent – or about $1.5 million dollars per plane per year – dampen noise levels by half and cut CO2 emissions by 3,600 metric tons a year.
Five manufacturers – including Embraer, Airbus, Bombardier and Irkut – have placed orders for more than 4,700 PurePower engines.
The Bombardier CSeries is a great example of how new engine technology is disrupting the industry. The CSeries is the first all-new, narrow-bodied jetliner to come along in decades, and is a direct challenge to established competitors.
When significant orders started coming in for this aircraft, it really raised the attention of the airframers. It was at this point that the PurePower engine came to be viewed as a serious threat to the status quo.
The competitive advantage in terms of fuel efficiency and operating costs of this engine – which has half the airfoils than a conventional turbofan – is behind a revolution in single-aisle aircraft design and manufacture.
With the PurePower on its wing, the Bombardier CSeries compelled everyone in the single-aisle market to change, and it is driving innovation in a segment that will be worth an estimated $2 trillion dollars over the next 20 years.
These new aircraft bring to mind something Pratt & Whitney founder Frederick Rentschler once said, and that was: "the best airplanes are built around the best engines." I believe that will continue to be the case.
As an industry, we are definitely on the right track. Compared to year 2000, fuel efficiency on U.S. domestic flights has improved 40 percent and international flights have improved 17 percent.
Compared to the aircraft of 50 years ago, it's like the difference between a 1960 Cadillac Coupe Deville and a 2013 Toyota Prius.
Innovative design certainly accounts for improvement in fuel efficiency, both in the auto and aviation sectors. New composite materials are making airframes and engines lighter and stronger. Several parts in our engines are made with next-generation composite technology.
But I would argue that propulsion, more than any other factor, will lead us forward.
Between 1960 and the year 2000, the primary efficiency improvements in jet aircraft were achieved by increasing fuel-per-unit thrust in the engine.
According to one study, this accounted for 69 percent of overall improvement, as compared to advancements in aerodynamics – at just 27 percent – and other factors such as weight reduction.
We all know why this is important. For most airlines, fuel costs have surpassed labor costs as their largest expense, at about 40 percent of operations.
As a result, our commercial aviation customers are leaving no stone unturned in the search for efficiency. For the first time last year we saw an airline buy an oil refinery. When you see headlines like that, you begin to realize that no solution is too radical, and no option is off the table.
Because of these demands – for competitiveness, efficiency and profitability within the slimmest of margins – our technology has set the pace for addressing the most serious concerns of our policy, customer and community stakeholders.
These issues – CO2 emissions, fuel efficiency and noise – are top priorities for us as well, and we continue to play a leadership role.
Nowhere is our seat at the table more important than our work with the International Civil Aviation Organization. The ICAO has developed environmental standards for the certification of aircraft and market-based measures to reduce aviation's impact on the environment.
This group is due to finalize global emissions measures on September 26, and they are expected to set rules that would allow nations to implement market-based plans, which we feel is preferable to the ETS trading scheme that was proposed by the European Union several years ago.
Benjamin Franklin once said that "laws too gentle are seldom obeyed, and laws too severe are seldom executed."
We continue to urge lawmakers to formulate policies that reflect the realities of the industry and preserve our country's leadership position in global aviation.
We can look to NASA and the FAA for examples of how federal agencies are taking the long view in this regard. Both agencies continue to partner with the private sector to discover and apply the next generation of aviation technology.
In 2010, NASA and the FAA, for example, signed contracts with five aerospace companies, all of whom committed to match FAA research funds to advance green technologies. It was called the CLEEN initiative, and it is funding projects and technologies that could be introduced into aircraft as early as 2015.
In 2012, three industry teams were also awarded NASA funding to assess technologies for more fuel-efficient airplanes. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman responded with futuristic flying wing and box wing designs that could reduce aircraft fuel consumption by up to 50 percent, and reduce airport noise by 83 percent.
These programs demonstrate the potential of collaboration with industry, even at a time when government resources are scarce. NASA's $570 million dollar budget for 2013 is about half of what was allocated during the 1990s.
That doesn't give NASA much to work with at a time when it is vital for our government to invest in pre-competitive, fundamental research.
But with the NASA budget at less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and aeronautics at less than 3 percent of the NASA budget, we have to ask ourselves: What will go undiscovered due to lack of funding? What are we leaving on the table?
For the first time in our nation's history, there are no new military aircraft in development. This is a loss not only for our country, but also for our industry, because new, viable commercial technology is often the result.
Some of the highest-value export products today are manufactured in the aviation industry. As we all know, if you can manufacture something to aviation standards, you can meet any other industry's standard for your product worldwide.
Another national priority must be a sustained commitment of resources for NextGen. This revolutionary upgrade of our air traffic control system will do more to advance the causes of fuel efficiency and clean skies than nearly any other government program.
You've all heard a lot about NextGen and the need to update our antiquated air traffic control system, but it's important to understand that NextGen will not only reduce noise, carbon emissions and fuel burn through the use of its own technology and systems, but it will also maximize the benefits of new, low-noise engines.
Our PurePower engines reduce aircraft noise footprint by up to 75 percent, which would allow many aircraft using them to fly outside of designated noise abatement areas.
At many airports, NextGen GPS systems are already making approach routes more efficient, but at airports with the old technology, aircraft must fly the old routes regardless of how quiet they are.
Implementing NextGen is a critical part of our ability to exploit low-noise footprinting and realize the fuel efficiency benefits it creates.
And yet NextGen has been repeatedly threatened by short-term funding measures, a lack of future commitments and – of course – sequestration.
The threat posed by sequestration to fielding NextGen is nothing less than a threat to the progress our industry has committed to in terms of noise and emissions. It's a commitment we take seriously.
I hope by now it's clear that the next big thing is actually "less." When we work together toward the goal of "less", we burn less fuel, produce fewer emissions and create less noise. We all benefit from the result.