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.