Raytheon Technologies CEO On Riding Out the COVID-19 Crisis

When he was United Technologies Corp. chairman and CEO, Greg Hayes took a lot of heat for merging his company with Raytheon to create aerospace powerhouse Raytheon Technologies. But the critics have been silenced as defense has cushioned the company from the battering the commercial downturn has inflicted on its Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney operations. Hayes spoke via videoconference with AW&ST Editor-in-Chief Joe Anselmo and Senior Business Editor Michael Bruno.

AW&ST: How long will it take the commercial aviation industry to recover from the COVID-19 crisis? Initially, we thought this was going to be like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-03. We thought it was going to be relatively short-lived, where air traffic would go down for a little while but then gradually recover. I don’t think any of us envisioned the morbidity or the scope of this pandemic and its impact on travel. I would say we’re looking now at getting back to 2019 in 2023, maybe 2024. It is going to be a slow recovery.

  • Raytheon chief looks ahead
  • Commercial aviation recovery will take years
  • Investing in hypersonics
  • Game-changing technologies for a next-generation narrowbody

The good news is we’ve got plenty of liquidity. We’ll see our way through this, but it is going to be a tough road. We are hunkering down for a protracted recession on the commercial aero side. Our aftermarket orders are down 50%-plus at both Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney. That’s where a lot of the profits come from. The reason we can spend $2.5 billion a year on R&D for the commercial businesses is because we have this spares business that generates strong cash. When that goes away, it’s tough. And as a result, we’re going to cut R&D this year by $500 million on the commercial side.

Unfortunately, the airlines are not in a position to weather this storm for probably more than another 12 months without government assistance. That’s really going to be the key. Do governments in the U.S., Europe, South America and across Asia step up to support what is a critical industry in aerospace?

Is the industry underplaying the severity of the COVID-19 downturn? A vaccine is the key, and it has to be widely available. The World Health Organization is working on that, but we’re going to have hotspots with this pandemic for the next year or two. So even if the U.S. and Europe are completely vaccinated, what does that mean for travel to Africa, Asia, to the fast-growing markets?

I’d almost bifurcate the aerospace industry between a narrowbody recovery and widebody recovery. The narrowbody is primarily domestic, whether it’s Europe, the U.S. or even China. That will recover more quickly as people become confident-—there’s either a vaccine or they’ve found new treatment options. But on the international side, we can’t fly today into Europe, and we don’t want the Europeans to fly to the U.S. We can’t go to South America or China. Those routes are going to take much, much longer to recover. 

The fact is there are so many excess aircraft out there right now that we believe you’re going to see more parting out of existing fleets before we see a resurgence. And that’s why even when passenger traffic starts to come back, there’s probably a full 6-12 months before we’re going to see a return to normalcy in our aftermarket organization.

Pratt supplies the PW1000G engine option for the Airbus A320neo. How much downside risk is there for -deliveries? We’re planning for about a 40% reduction in A320 deliveries this year and next year compared with February 2020 production rates. Airbus would love to build more, but it’s not clear to us that customers are going to be around to take more than that. The good news is our market share went from about 42% [of A320neo engines] to north of 50% in the last year. Customers are starting to believe in the geared turbofan because of the fuel efficiency.

Do you see the market share between Airbus and Boeing shifting? The order book for the A320 is much stronger today, with all the cancellations that we’ve seen on the 737 MAX because of delays. We still think the 737 will get back in the air this year, and we continue to work with Boeing on software updates. We firmly believe it’s a great aircraft. Keep in mind we have about $2.5 million of content per shipset on the 737. It’s going to be a tough couple of years, but we ultimately have faith in the airframe and the certification process.

Where are you focusing your future efforts with Boeing and Airbus? We were optimistically cautious about the [proposed Boeing] new mid-market airplane (NMA), but there is a lot of excess capacity now, and it’s not clear another evolutionary design is going to be the answer. So our focus right now is the next-generation single--aisle. And we think that’s probably been pushed out a couple of years, to maybe 2033 or 2035.

They’re talking about a 30% efficiency gain from the current single-aisle. Two-thirds of that gain has to come from engine design. At the Paris Air Show last year, we talked about a hybrid electric design [Project 804]. We’re going to continue on that path. We’re trying to figure out how you can have enough power at takeoff while having a much lower fuel consumption at cruise. And that’s where hybrid electric comes in. It’s going to take us at least a decade to prove that out.

I don’t know if hybrid electric is the answer. There are other things that we’re working on. But obviously it’s got to be something completely different than what we’ve been building in the past.

Governments around the world are taking on huge debt to alleviate the coronavirus crisis. Are you worried that will put pressure on military spending over the long term? You would have to have your head in the sand to not understand what’s going to happen to defense budgets over time. When [Raytheon CEO] Tom Kennedy and I first talked about this merger, it was, “What can we do together that we can’t do separately?” And it really was bringing the technologies of the two companies together to solve customer problems in new and innovative ways.

Defense budgets will go down, but I think the real question is where Defense Department spending is going. I remember talking two years ago with [then-Defense Secretary] Gen. [James] Mattis, and he said, “Bring us innovative solutions, not to fight the last war but to fight the next war.” And the next war, he said, is going to be fought in cyberspace and outer space. The capabilities of the legacy Raytheon business are second to none in space and are outstanding on the cyber side. You marry that up with the manufacturing and material science that Pratt & Whitney brings, with the communication systems that Rockwell Collins brings, and this is going to be a great play.

The U.S. Air Force wants more software-driven capabilities, delivered in weeks or even days. How does that square with your businesses, which often involve long-term hardware evolutions? It’s making sure that we’re continuing to evolve our products. The missiles we’re delivering today, such as the SM-3 [interceptor] or the SM-6 [anti-air/anti-surface/-ballistic missile defense] are state of the art, and we continue to find new uses for them.

A lot of things will change over time in terms of how the weapons are deployed. Think about the Storm-Breaker missile that we just demonstrated, which has the tri-mode seeker. It can do things the last generation of missiles could never do in terms of going through smoke, fog, dust and sand. The LRSO [Long-Range Standoff nuclear cruise missile] is another example. And the Tomahawk is an established product that we will evolve as the needs of the battlefield change to meet new requirements. That’s really what we want to focus on: How do we continue software-driven solutions but also find ways to redeploy and reinvigorate the product line and bring new capabilities to the warfighter?

Are you making long-term investments in hypersonics? Hypersonics are a destabilizing technology. There’s only so much we can talk about, but we know we’re behind the Chinese and probably behind the Russians. I think in 3-5 years we’ll be on a level playing field. Our focus has been on defensive systems, using space-based assets to track hypersonics. It’s nothing that a ground radar could ever do because they move too fast. And then countermeasures that we could use to defend against hypersonics is the bigger market. We’re obviously investing. We’ve got a program, the HAWC [Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept], which is an air-breathing hypersonic missile that we’re working on. I think we’ll flight-test that later this year.

Also think about the materials science that Pratt brings. The key to hypersonics is how to keep the electronics from getting fried when you’re operating at something like 5,000F. We’re investing in  cooling materials—that will be one of the big bets that we’re going to have to make. Tom Kennedy saw the need to make these investments, and we’re going to do that. The other piece is on the space side. There’s not a lot that we can say, other than that we think space will be the frontier that will differentiate us—that is, the defense of space assets, as well as using space assets to detect, track and target hypersonic weapons.

When the merger of United Technologies and Raytheon was announced, there was a lot of criticism from investors. Now they’re happy about how well-positioned the combined company is to weather the COVID-19 storm. There was a lot of pushback from investors, especially from the hedge fund guys. They saw us taking a lower-margin business, and they didn’t like the fact that the technology takes 5-10 years to pay off. I was roundly criticized. All I can say is I was an idiot a year ago and now I’m a genius, through no fault of my own.

We did this for the long term, and it was completely fortuitous that the merger happened when it did. The commercial businesses won’t make any money this year, and they are going to struggle for the next couple of years, but now we’ve got a rock-solid balance sheet and a lot of cash. And that defense business is going to grow 5-8% this year. We’ve got a good backlog. I’d like to say it was genius, but it really was just doing what’s right for the long term. My goal is to leave this company better than I found it.

You have reshaped this company, starting with selling Sikorsky to Lockheed Martin in 2015. Then you acquired Rockwell Collins and moved to break up the UTC conglomerate, and it looked like UTC was going to be a commercial aerospace company. Now comes Raytheon. Are you done, or is there more to come? I’m never done until I’m gone, but we don’t need to do anything else big. The driving force [behind the Raytheon merger] was putting two big technology companies together with cyclical balance [between commercial and defense]. Tom Kennedy always felt he was at a disadvantage against the Lockheeds of the world because of the scale of Lockheed versus Raytheon. This gives us the scale to invest and compete head on with the Lockheed Martins and Northrop Grummans, as well as being the largest supplier to both Boeing and Airbus. We have some clout in the marketplace.

We’ve got 700,000 different things that we deliver to customers: missiles, APUs, engines, communications gear. Some we really love; others don’t have the returns that we want or require too much investment for a limited market. We hope to have a portfolio review done by the end of the year. And you’ll probably see some divestitures, but not big pieces. We also continue to look for technology bolt-ons as we think about what’s next in defense and the space and cyber spectrums.

Longer term, the big question in my mind is what happens to Rolls-Royce, a great technology company that is facing challenging financial circumstances. We loved the partnership Pratt had with Rolls on International Aero Engines. Could we recreate that someday? Perhaps, but not now. Ian Davis, who’s the chairman over there, is a good guy. We always say, “Look, we need to find ways to collaborate so we can take on GE Aviation.” Despite the fact that GE may be on its heels today, they’ve got over 30,000 engines out there. Their aftermarket will recover, they will get better, and they will be the formidable competitor for both Rolls and Raytheon Technologies for the foreseeable future.

We’re hearing from Wall Street that you’re expected to sell off the Forcepoint business. Forcepoint is a commercial cyber business Tom Kennedy created when he brought a couple of companies together about five years ago. It has some great technology, but it clearly doesn’t fit in the portfolio. We’ll figure that out in the next six months.

How is the integration going? Nothing went according to plan except the merger itself. We sent everybody home the week of March 12 [because of COVID-19], and we were still three weeks away from the merger. So we had to complete the merger and all of the integration remotely. And we had to spin off Carrier and Otis. All of that came to fruition on time and exactly as we had planned while working from home. The resilience and the ingenuity of our folks to figure all this out has probably been the most pleasing.

There was some concern that the cultures at Raytheon and the commercial guys at Pratt and Collins would never come together. That is the last thing I worry about. Everything we laid out has gotten done. We’re on track for synergies in cost, technology and revenue. The difference is I have yet to have a staff meeting in person. I’ve got 17 people who work for me, and we do everything on Zoom. Each one of our three board meetings since the merger has been done on Zoom. If you had told me 3-4 months ago that we would be working from home for a good deal of time, I’d have really panicked. But we figured it out.

Joe Anselmo

Joe Anselmo has been Editorial Director of the Aviation Week Network and Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology since 2013. Based in Washington, D.C., he directs a team of more than two dozen aerospace journalists across the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Michael Bruno

Based in Washington, Michael Bruno is Aviation Week Network’s Executive Editor for Business. He oversees coverage of aviation, aerospace and defense businesses, supply chains and related issues.