It’s never easy to displace a solidly entrenched incumbent in a niche market, but that’s what GE Aviation has set out to do with its H80 family of turboprop engines. Like David and Goliath, the Czech-built H80 aims to take on the giant empire of Pratt & Whitney’s PT6.

A Small Start

More than 40,000 PT6 engines have been delivered since the first entered service 50 years ago. Last year GE Aviation delivered its first H80 turboprop; today 25 are flying, and the 50th engine has just been shipped from the new factory in Prague-Letnany. Production is ramping up towards 80 this year, with 30% increases anticipated year-on-year through 2016.

“We’re making sure people realize that GE is absolutely committed to this market segment, and the level of support we’re getting from GE headquarters is very, very strong,” says Jim Stoker, president and managing executive of GE Aviation Business & General Aviation Turboprops.

The focus is on the 750-850 shp range covered by the H75, H80 and H85 engines, which compete head to head with the PT6A-25C through PT6A-52 that power aircraft types from the Pilatus PC-7 trainer to King Air 200s.

“Until now there’s been no real competition in that sector,” says Stoker.

Development of new H80 variants is already underway in Prague to tailor models to OEMs’ requirements over the next five years or so.

“We are talking intensively with all the OEMs and developers of supplemental type certificates about what they need,” says commercial director Milan Slapak.

While the Czech company can call on the huge story of technology that GE Aviation has amassed for the GEnx and LEAP airliner engines, the trick is to balance what can be done against what a customer can afford. Thus the H80 family doesn’t, for example, incorporate full authority digital electronic controls (FADEC). “This market hasn’t said it needs it,” says Stoker.

A Czechered History

GE Aviation acquired the Czech Walter Engines in 2008, and set out to improve the ubiquitous M601 that was developed to power the Let 410 transport for service in the harshest environments in the world. About 300 L410s are still airworthy; about 650 M601s are supported, and another 300-400 “are out there” and could be brought into airworthy compliance with an authorized service check that would remove a five-year calendar overhaul requirement.

Although no longer in production, about 100 M601s are shipped from Prague every year; 80% of these are overhauls, and 20% remanufactured engines. None of them have calendar requirement. Nor do the H80 family of engines, which evolved from the M601 with the infusion by GE of 3D aerodynamics and new materials.

Stoker says he expects M601 overhauls and remanufactures to be part of the business for perhaps the next 15 years until replaced completely by the H80.

Growth Poetential: Conversions

King Air conversions will be a major market for the H80, says Jim Stoker. STC developer Smyrna Air Center in Tennessee, USA, delivered the world’s first King Air C90 with H80 engines replacing the PT6s last January, and both Europe and Latin America are seen as major opportunities. GE is supporting the STC and helping raise its visibility. The plan is to license the STC in Europe (a partner has been pre-selected in the France-Germany-Spain area), and an announcement is imminent, says Milan Slapak.

Stoker noted that GE will ask Conklin & deDecker to analyze the financial benefits of the H80 conversion, just as it did in 2010 when it found significant benefits for installing M601E-11A engines in the King Air C90.

The benefits of the H80 should be even more significant as it has 3-1/2% better fuel consumption than the M601E, and a time-between-overhaul of 3,600 hours vs 3,000, says Stoker. And compared with the PT6, it also has no hot section inspection requirement.

Canada’s Winnipeg River Aircraft is aiming for year-end for an STC for the H80 in a single DHC-3 Otter, and a second engine will be delivered to them for that program by the end of June.

And OEMs

GE Aviation sees a good potential in agricultural aviation, and supplies the H80 to Thrush for the 501G crop sprayer. Six of these will be delivered to China this year, marking the H80’s third application there – it also powers China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co’s single-engined Primus 150 executive turboprop, and has replaced the M601 on the prototype Hongdu N5B cropduster. Work is now well under way to build an infrastructure to support the engines in-county, including an authorized service center with engine-specific tools and training; GE and CAIGA earlier signed an agreement to jointly develop and support the H85-powered Primus 150 and expand turboprop engine service capabilities in China.

The H80 family also powers the latest L410, which Stoker believes has significant potential in Russia, and in hot-and-high applications around the world.

GE Aviation is exhibiting at EBACE at booth 1243.