Electrification: A Shock To PW100 Maintenance?

The deal with Vertical Aerospace is valued at up to $1.25 billion.
Credit: Avolon

Last week’s commitment by leasing giant Avolon for up to 500 electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) marks the most serious commercial breakthrough yet for a green propulsion technology.

The deal with Vertical Aerospace is valued at up to $1.25 billion, although significant regulatory, technical and logistical hurdles still need clearing before an anticipated first delivery in 2024.

Elsewhere in Europe, at almost the same time the deal was being announced, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury was telling a conference that the European OEM would prioritize the efficiency of existing aircraft, as it doesn’t see electric or hydrogen power being ready for aircraft larger than the A220 until the 2040s.

However, he does see potential for sustainable propulsion in the regional segment from the 2030s.

So, where does eVTOL fit into this future: is it a threat to existing regional aircraft or is it more likely to occupy a new niche between them and private jets, or even between private jets and taxis?

The Vertical Aircraft VA-X4 appears to fall in the last category. With a range of 100 miles and capacity for four passengers, it would need roughly 20 of the eVTOL aircraft to replace one ATR72, which is in any case among the least carbon-intensive commercial aircraft currently operating.  

For 2021, Aviation Week predicts total regional engine maintenance demand of $4 billion, rising to a peak for the decade of $5.1 billion in 2024. Thereafter comes a decline before spending picks up the late 2020s.

The turboprop aftermarket is dominated by the PW100 turboprop while is expected to account for about 25% of regional engine maintenance demand in 2021 and the same again in 2026.

In that timeframe, electrification clearly poses no threat, but the size of Avolon’s order may suggest that it foresees a step change in how people will fly short distances thereafter.

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel will be materially reshaped, with airlines needing to embrace emerging technologies that decarbonise air travel. We strongly believe that the VA-X4 will lead this transformation," said the lessor’s chief executive, Dómhnal Slattery.

Alex Derber

Alex Derber, a UK-based aviation journalist, is editor of the Engine Yearbook and a contributor to Aviation Week and Inside MRO.