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Pratt, 3 Japanese partners to make engines for mid-range jetliners

IHI, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi Heavy to contribute lighter components

TOKYO -- A trio of Japanese heavy machinery makers has agreed with U.S. engine maker Pratt & Whitney to develop engines for the next generation of mid-range passenger jets.

Budget airlines are exploding in popularity and have already placed orders for large numbers of today's mid-range planes.

The next generation of these jetliners is expected to take to the skies in the 2030s, and the three Japanese companies think they can capture a lot of demand for the engines that will lift these planes by contributing their lightweight materials. 

IHI, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have agreed with the U.S. engine maker on a development outline and to begin work within the next 12 months.

The three Japanese companies have proven their ability to produce components using materials like ceramic matrix composites, titanium aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics. Now they and Pratt & Whitney will try to combine their specialties and come up with lighter and more heat-resistant engine parts.

The Japanese companies will focus on fans, reduction gears, low-pressure turbines and compressors as well as combustors. Their American partner will concentrate on high-pressure turbines and other components.

Each company will make its assigned components at its own factories, then share the proceeds from engine sales.

Total development costs are expected to reach $90 million or so. The resultant engine is expected to deliver higher fuel efficiency and leave fainter trails of greenhouse gas emissions than an engine from the partnership of General Electric of the U.S. and Safran of France.

The fan in a jet engine presents makers with a particularly vexing problem. It provides a jet engine with thrust, which requires a certain amount of size. But size means weight, and weight cuts into an engine's efficiency.

Made-in-Japan materials are expected to solve this riddle. In fact, the consortium thinks it can improve engine performance by 10%.

A study estimates that demand for new passenger jets could double every 20 years as emerging economies give rise to vast squadrons of middle class tourists. Right now, passenger jets with 180 to 230 seats are the most in demand.

The latest mid-range passenger jets include the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo. The two jet-makers combined have received 9,000 or so orders for these models.

The Japan-U.S. consortium hopes to build the engines that will go into the next generation of these jetliners.


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