Opinion: Trends In The Asia-Pacific Impacting Engine MRO

Pratt & Whitney engine
Credit: Pratt & Whitney

We anticipate the Asia-Pacific region will lead the recovery in commercial airline operations and be the first area in the world to return to 2019 commercial passenger capacity levels in terms of available seat kilometers.

Pratt & Whitney forecasts that global airline industry traffic will return to 2019 levels by the end of 2024, and the Asia-Pacific region is expected to reach that point sometime before then.

Mary Ellen Jones
Mary Ellen Jones. Credit: Pratt & Whitney

We expect there to be more overhauls of Pratt & Whitney engines in 2021 compared to 2020 and that engine MRO facilities in Asia-Pacific will account for nearly half of all scheduled overhauls globally this year for Pratt & Whitney commercial engines. Our engine MRO facilities in the Asia-Pacific region are in Christchurch, New Zealand; Shanghai and Singapore, along with third-party MRO companies approved to do our engine overhauls.

Pratt & Whitney is investing more in geared turbofan (GTF) MRO capability in the Asia Pacific region—such as GTF high-pressure compressor (HPC) overhaul capability—and is continuing to grow its network. In 2020, we added three Asia-Pacific facilities to the GTF network: Ameco, a joint venture between Air China Ltd. and Lufthansa German Airlines; MTU Maintenance Zhuhai, a joint venture between MTU Aero Engines and China Southern Airline; and China Airlines. Overall, our GTF MRO network now includes nine active facilities, and that number will grow to 11 by the end of this year.

We are also investing in employee and customer training as well as new MRO technologies, including automation technology. 

Most of our engine MRO business this year will be on the GTF as well as the IAE V2500 engine, which powers Airbus A320ceo aircraft. We will continue to provide tailored solutions to help customers cost-effectively maintain their fleets. 

The two segments of the airline market that are performing best are the cargo and domestic single-aisle passenger sectors. Our engines are predominantly on narrowbody passenger and freighter aircraft and widebody freighters. The PW4000 engine overhaul business has been doing well because it is an engine type that is principally installed on widebodies that are now used as dedicated freighters.

For example, Eagle Services Asia in Singapore maintains PW4000s on certain Airbus A300 freighters. This engine type also powers Airbus A330s, Airbus A310s, Boeing MD-11s, Boeing 767-200/300s, Boeing 777-200/300s and Boeing 747-400s. These widebody types are popular as dedicated freighters.

The 747-400 dedicated freighter that delivered the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to Singapore—which was also the first shipment of the vaccine to Asia—was transported on a Singapore Airlines Cargo Boeing 747-400 powered by PW4000 engines.

In terms of the airline passenger business, many of the aircraft that have come back into operation first are those powered by the Pratt & Whitney GTF, such as the Airbus A220, Airbus A320neo and Embraer E2 models. Passenger airlines, seeking to save money, are generally using their newer-model aircraft because they offer better fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs. For example, the GTF-powered Airbus A320neo has a 16% fuel-efficiency improvement compared with the A320ceo.

Airlines generally use narrowbody aircraft on domestic sectors and have continued to use these types, particularly the more fuel-efficient ones, to maintain their domestic networks during the reduced-demand environment of the pandemic. Domestic air travel is recovering more quickly than international air travel because there are fewer restrictions on domestic services.

Even in international sectors, however, we are seeing airlines increasingly choosing to operate fuel-efficient, long-range narrowbodies rather than widebodies because the aircraft are easier to fill and have a lower overall trip cost. This switch to narrowbodies from widebodies on international routes is a trend that was already happening, but it has accelerated during the pandemic.

Mary Ellen Jones is Pratt & Whitney vice president of customer business for the Asia-Pacific region.