Gulfstream bets big on Pratt & Whitney with G500 and G600
By choosing Pratt & Whitney engines for its new Gulfstream G500 and G600 aircraft, Gulfstream has either made a courageous decision or a marketing mistake. Because of the nature of aircraft manufacturing, we will not know which for 10 years.
The issue is not about technology. Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce both make great engines.
It is not even about corporate relationships. Although Rolls-Royce and Gulfstream have worked together since the G1 in 1958 (in fact Gulfstream has been working with Rolls, longer than it has been in Savannah), Pratt & Whitney engines power the G200 and Honeywell engines the G280.
It is not about the risk that comes with a new engine company. After the success it has had introducing the G280 and G650 Gulfstream can probably feel confident that it can manage this.
The risk is all about customer perception. This is a woolly, touchy-feely subject compared to building an aircraft. But it is a very important one. Large Gulfstream aircraft have always been powered by Rolls-Royce engines. The question is what will loyal Gulfstream customers feel about changing this?
“Gulfstream owners associate Rolls-Royce with their aircraft and it has always been a sign of quality for owners,” says one large aircraft broker. “Many owners valued this partnership and they also strengthened their relationship with Corporate Care [Rolls-Royce’s engine maintenance programme]. I am sure that the new engine is great but Rolls-Royce also makes great engines. If it is just a cost issue it is really sad.”
With its flagship G650, the final choice came down to Rolls-Royce and General Electric. General Electric really wanted to part of the programme. Jeffrey Imelt, the CEO of GE, flew down to Savannah in his (Bombardier) aircraft and pitched hard. In the end, Gulfstream decided to stick with Rolls-Royce. As one senior manager said: “Customers told us they liked the fact that Gulfstream aircraft had Rolls-Royce engines and we weren’t brave enough to change.”
The broker agrees: “Customers like improvements. But they don’t like big changes. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
The current team clearly are brave enough to go with Pratt & Whitney. It may be the right decision. But it will take time see what existing customers feel about the change.