Engine and avionics manufacturers often feel that they get a rough deal. Everyone gets excited about new aircraft launches. But drawing a crowd to the launch of a new Head Up Display or even an engine is much tougher. No matter how good the cocktails are.
This is partly because aircraft manufacturers tend to have the primary relationship with the customer (although the popularity of maintenance programmes means this is changing). But it is mainly because the vast majority of people (both inside and outside the industry) have little idea of how an engine works – let alone know anything about avionics. Every five-year old child can learn to make a paper airplane, few can make working paper-engine models.
United Technologies, the parent of Pratt & Whitney, this week closed its acquisition of Rockwell Collins to create a new company called Collins Aerospace. Business aviation will account for several billion dollars of sales at Collins Aerospace – making it bigger than some aircraft manufacturers in terms of sales.
In 2017 some 32% of all new business jets were powered by Pratt & Whitney engines (some even had three of them). Rockwell Collins says that 85% of the world’s business-jet fleet are fitted with its avionics. The company also sells seats, cabin lighting, offers trip planning, communications, cabin connectivity and much more.
Collins Aerospace is best known for its hardware, but a lot of its future research and sales will be focused on connecting and analysing the data from all of these products. A lot of this will be when aircraft are flying – the connected aircraft of the future.
United Technologies – which sold Sikorsky in 2015 – is also splitting off lift-company Otis and Carrier, an air-conditioning business, into two separate companies.
Simplifying United Technologies make sense. It could also reduce volatility. While aviation is cyclical, few markets go from hot to cold quickly as air conditioning and lift sales are always going up and down.