What's Pratt Up To?
Aviation companies are a little like people in that they have different personalities. And they’re especially different when it comes to dealing with the press. Some are friendly, forthright and open while others tend toward the cagey. I’d put Pratt & Whitney in that second category, almost to the point of detachment.
During Monday’s press day, I attended a lunch briefing Pratt held as a kind of how-goes-it for its various engine products. I was trying to remember the last time I attended such a thing by Pratt and I think the answer was never. Frankly, it’s not a great format when you’re trying to simultaneously take notes and munch on braised chicken. Fortunately, in a convention already populated with vague, often content-free press conferences, Pratt was in good company. Not much to report.
But sometimes I sit in these briefings as slides flash by and bullet points scroll like ticker tape and I hear something that I think I should know about it and wonder if everyone else in the room already does. This time it was something described as a 2000-horsepower engine. Vague specs were shown, design goals hazily discussed and the briefer moved on. During the Q&A, I vowed to confess my ignorance, but someone else beat me to it: What is this thing? Is it a new dash number for the PT-6? A clean sheet? A free-turbine? A geared turboshaft? The briefer wasn’t specific enough to discern it as anything but perhaps a somewhat hurried response to GE’s new ATP turboprop announced two years ago. As a measure of its seriousness in taking on Pratt, GE brought along a launch customer, Cessna’s new single-engine Denali turboprop.
Industrial espionage being what it is, I doubt if Pratt was caught completely flat footed by GE’s sudden incursion into its heretofore private PT-6 backyard. But knowing about it and responding aren’t the same thing. Pratt certainly should have been aware that the PT-6 idea, although a long-established success, was getting long in the tooth and that the market was probably overdue for something new. GE saw the opportunity and has invested $1.5 billion since 2008 in carving out a share of what Pratt owns. Being the would-be challenger, GE is yin to Pratt’s yang and is more than happy to talk about some of the details of its new engine and did exactly that in a press briefing later in the day. Just two years after its announcement, GE is about to run a conforming prototype. That’s quick work and GE aims to apply what it learns in the ATP project to its H-series engines which are direct competitors to the PT-6. In its briefing, Pratt & Whitney said it just passed 100,000 engines delivered, which is an impressive installed base. All the same, I wouldn’t want GE breathing down my neck, thanks very much.
Vegas is Vegas
This being a blog about aviation, I wouldn’t normally mention what I’m about to, but I was asked about it and I’m sure I will be again. With the horrific shooting last weekend, what’s it like here? Not that I’ve been doing man-in-the-street interviews, but Las Vegas is a city built on distractions and, on the surface at least, it’s as resilient as any other American city.
Tapping the mood via Uber drivers, one asked me if NBAA considered cancelling the convention or if I considered not coming. To the first, I’d answer probably not, to the second, even though I may not have wanted to come, I couldn’t see a reason not to. I have no inkling why a person would arm himself and murder dozens of innocent people, but my declining to come here neither honors the dead nor comforts the survivors. I live in the same world as everyone else, I accept the consequences of whatever risk that entails and I refuse to be cowed by it.
But beneath the veneer of normalcy, there’s profound pain. A second Uber driver I rode with spent the night ferrying panicked people around the city and lost count of how many trips he made. His sister, a trauma nurse in the hospital closest to the shooting who was herself traumatized, left town and he hasn’t heard from her. We can only hope that he does. All the rest of us can do is carry on.