US engine maker opens first plant here

American aircraft-engine maker Pratt & Whitney has opened its eighth facility - and first manufacturing plant - in Singapore.

The investment underscores the importance of Singapore and the larger Asian market for the firm, said president Bob Leduc.

"Asia is an important region and we see plenty of growth here so it's important for us to be here," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The new manufacturing plant at Seletar is Pratt & Whitney's second facility at Seletar Aerospace Park. The firm has invested a total of US$110 million (S$153.7 million) in the two Seletar facilities alone.

At the new facility, which opened last month, it produces high-pressured turbine discs and aluminium fan blades for its new geared turbofan engines, which power planes more efficiently. Mr Leduc said: "The work is so specialised that there are only two places on the planet where we're doing this. One is in Michigan, United States and the second is right here in Singapore".

Poland and Taiwan were also considered as possible locations for the new plant but Singapore proved the ideal choice. A highly skilled and productive workforce and strong government support for industry nailed it for Singapore, where Pratt & Whitney currently employs more than 2,000 people, he said.

Mr Leduc, a 38-year industry veteran who took over the helm of Pratt & Whitney just last month, said the next few years will be spent clearing an order backlog of about 7,000 engines - the highest in more than 30 years. Despite some slowdown in the global economy, the prospects for the aviation sector are strong, he said.

"We've not seen any change in demand. We've seen no cancellations, no deferrals. Usually when people believe that the economic conditions will lead to traffic slowdown, you'll start to see that kind of conversation. We've seen none of that. Orders are still coming in and you'll see us announce some in the couple of weeks," he added.

The dramatic fall in jet fuel price - now about half of that a year ago at just more than US$40 per barrel - has not had an impact on the push for more fuel-efficient engines either, Mr Leduc said.

Even if prices were to fall further, fuel remains a significant part of an airline's operating costs. "So the recent drop in prices has not affected the way they think about equipment refresh and upgrades," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'US engine maker opens first plant here'. Print Edition | Subscribe