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P&W Engines Are The Best Choice To Power India’s Defence Aircraft: Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head, Pratt & Whitney, India

Indian defence & aerospace is at the critical juncture of building capability. IAF talked about more than 1000 fighter aircraft for India’s next generation Advance Medium Combat Aircraft & Tejas Mk-2. What is lacking for India is the elusive jet engine capability. P&W makes world's most powerful jet engine for Fighter jets- F-22 & F 35. BW Businessworld's Manish kumar Jha speaks with Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head, Pratt & Whitney, UTC India on such issues.

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Over the decades, P&W has established MRO capability in India for its partner airlines. Could you outline the expansion plans for India and commitment to innovation? 

Pratt & Whitney’s presence in India spans seven decades starting in the 1960s, when Air India received its first Boeing 707 powered by P&W’s JT3D engines. Since then, P&W engines have powered aviation growth in India with a product portfolio across commercial, regional, business and military aviation. In 2005, our V2500 engines on IndiGo Airline’s Airbus A320 fleet helped usher in a new age for private aviation in India. Today, more than 1,250 P&W engines power more than 50 per cent of commercial aircraft in the country. From single-aisle to turbo-props, we have the largest footprint for any engine maker in the country. That’s why one in every two people flying in India fly on Pratt & Whitney’s engines. 

Over the last five years, with the intent of ensuring more timely returns to operators, we have significantly grown our global maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) network. In fact, our global Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) MRO capacity has increased six times since 2017. We currently have eight facilities worldwide doing GTF MRO. 

Pratt & Whitney's Eagle Service Asia facility in Singapore overhauls GTF

We recently announced our first investment in India-based MRO services. Air India Engineering Services (AIESL) will provide MRO services in support of P&W GTF engines and customers in India. AIESL will service PW1100G-JM engines at its facility in Mumbai. This will not only strengthen our MRO capacity and capabilities in India, but also open up future avenues for growth, aligned to the government’s “Make in India” vision. We remain committed to building capabilities for high value services that will help airlines get the best from their next-generation products, and creating an innovative aerospace and defence ecosystem that transforms the country’s aviation aspirations into reality. 

How is P&W going to contribute in building aerospace capabilities in India? 

P&W’s F117 engines power the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) 11 C-17 Globemasters — the largest C-17 fleet outside of United States — in carrying out military, humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. In fact, the C-17 has been used heavily during the Covid-19 crisis for medical repatriation flights for Indian citizens, and we are proud to play a role in the fleet’s readiness. The PT6A engines also power the Pilatus PC-7 trainers flown by the IAF. Additionally, we now offer a growing suite of sustainment solutions for engines for large and small aircraft that support the IAF’s mission readiness.

As for modernisation programmes, the IAF and the Indian Navy are in the process of upgrading some of their platforms.

A few aircraft in possible consideration for different campaigns include the PW100-powered Airbus C295 light transport for the IAF and the PW210-powered Sikorsky S-76D for the Naval Utility Helicopter programme.

We are confident that our engines are the best choice to power India’s defence aircraft and in meeting its modernisation needs in the future.

As India’s defence and aerospace sectors modernise, build capacity and assimilate technology, PW continues to set new standards of performance and dependability. Our GTF engine which powers the fastest growing single-aisle segment worldwide, delivers the promised fuel efficiency and environmental benefits that Indian aviation needs for its growth. The GTF-powered A320neo provides 16 per better fuel efficiency from prior-generation engines, 75 per cent reduction in noise footprint, and a 50 per cent reduction in regulated emissions. 

Ashmita Sethi,President & Country Head, Pratt & Whitney, UTC India

Similarly, P&W turboprop, turboshaft and turbofan engines have powered the growth of business and general aviation for decades. Today, with more than 650 engines in service powering regional, general and business aviation as well as helicopters and APUs, we are uniquely poised to power the government’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) and UDAN initiative, which aim to accelerate air travel penetra- tion, regional connectivity to drive local economies’ growth and affordable flying. RCS will open up additional opportunities to serve more than 50 million passengers by 2027 and requiring an additional 200-250 aircraft for this segment. 

India remains a key market for P&W, and we continue to build on our valued relationships through partnered investments in innovation, research, supply chain and sustainment. We have been working with leading Indian suppliers such as Cyient and HCL for our engineering and sourcing needs. We are deeply committed to the India market and aligned with the government’s programmes including Make in India, Skill India’ and Startup India’ and are looking to further our investments. 

P&W is actively contributing to the government’s vision of making India a global manufacturing hub and developing the aerospace talent pool. Specialised training programmes at our Customer Training Centre in Hyderabad, which is DGCA and EASA certified, help create an industry-ready talent pool. 

This is one of our two major international state-of-the-art training centres outside of the US where trainees get to work in realtime on engines, including our world-beating GTF engine. Our Industry Capability Enhancement programme supports medium and small-scale enterprises in precision manufacturing and highly specialised engineering services, and we also collaborate with state governments to advance skills training. 

We have also launched 100 e-learning centres, in collaboration with UCONN and Engineers Without Borders, to advance STEM education. Our focus on innovation helps us prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. Globally, we are investing in new technologies that will power the future of aviation while reducing the carbon footprint of our industry. Digital technologies, additive manufacturing, advanced high temperature materials and hybrid electric will positively impact aviation in the coming days. 

PM Modi and IAF chief talked about building more than 1,000 next-generation AMCA and Tejas Mk2 fighter aircraft but the biggest hurdle is a suitable jet engine for these aircraft. As the world‘s leading OEM with such capabilities, are you keen to respond to the idea of jointly developing and manufacturing engine here? 

Today, more than 7,000 P&W military engines are in service with 34 armed forces worldwide, setting new standards for performance and dependability. 

Globally, some of the most advanced fifth-generation aircraft in the world, like the F-35 and the F-22 Raptor, also fly on Pratt & Whitney engines. 

F-35A-Lightning-II (P&W)

Our engines currently power the IAF’s C-17 fleet and its Pilatus PC-7 trainers and are committed to serving the demands of our customers with cutting-edge innovation. In fact, India’s indigenous NAL-Saras, powered by the PT6A turboprop, is a great example of our partnership with local aircraft development programmes. That said, we may be open to fulfiling any requirements and considering partnerships on key platforms with our stakeholders in country. 

The government has increased FDI to 100 per cent on a case-to-case basis in defence, besides liberalising the MRO sector. As a foreign OEM, would you scale up and invest in India? 

What are the challenges in setting set up a complex jet engine manufacturing ecosystem in India? We welcome the Indian government’s recent announcements and are optimistic about their positive impact. The raising of the FDI limit in defence to 74 per cent and 100 per cent will certainly unleash the true potential of India’s defence production capabilities. The liberalisation of the MRO sector to make it more inclusive and competitive will provide the country with a strong operational ecosystem for both domestic and international players. 

Our recently announced partnership with AIESL will provide MRO services in support of Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engines for Indian and global customers. The partnership demonstrates our lead and support in the engine MRO sector as such services have been previously been conducted only by international MRO hubs, and we are proud to bring this advanced capability to India. 

India is looking to build 114 fighter jets under MMRCA 2.0, and General Electric is the engine supplier to all the proposed American aerospace OEMs — Boeing & Lockheed — along with 83 home-grown Tejas MK1a. Whilst P&W has the most advanced F119-PW-100 turbofan and F135 engines powering fifth generation fighter jets F-22 Raptor & F-35 Lightning II, they are limited in their scope for Indian defence. How do you look at this? 

As makers of the world’s first operational fifth-generation engine (F119) for the USAF F-22 and the world’s most advanced fighter engine (F135) for the F-35, our history and expertise with advanced propulsion systems is unmatched in the world. When it comes to India’s current requirement for 114 fighter jets, we believe that the IAF and the government will select the most capable platform that meets India’s long-term mission requirements. 

F135-engine-on-assembly-line( Credit-P&W)

Looking at the future, there are indigenous platforms in very early stages of consideration and development, including the twin-engine naval variant for the Tejas and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Such indigenous programmes will certainly advance India’s defence and industrial capabilities. Engine performance and development are critical components for advancing any new platform and at P&W, we are happy to engage with our customers on any opportunities that they see fit for us in the long term.

P&W’s PW1100Gs series engines for the Airbus A320neo family is undergoing overhauling to fix durability problems in challenging operating environments in India. Could you tell us about the ongoing progress?  

Given that the nation has been under an extended lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the deadline for the replacement of PW1100G-JM was extended by the DGCA to August 31, 2020. We have been working with our airline customers in India to continue to upgrade their PW1100G-JM engines. Even during the recent pause in air travel, P&W has been executing upon and meeting our India targets. 

More than 80 per cent of the engines already have the modified LPT to support successful return-to-service of our airline customers IndiGo and GoAir. P&W is upgrading engines through our aftermarket network and anticipates staying ahead of the return of passenger demand.

We are confident that we will meet the new deadline barring any further operational complications due to Covid-19. All upgraded engines are performing in line with our expectations and have not reported any issues. 

The GTF engine will drive the next generation of efficient, sustainable air travel allowing airlines and airports to open new routes and fly more people, farther, with less fuel— and much lower noise. As the aviation industry recovers from Covid-19’s impact, efficiency and sustainability will be key to a robust recovery.