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By Allison Lampert
Hartford, Conn. (Reuters) - Engine maker Pratt & Whitney is set to announce an improved version of its geared turbofan engine used by Airbus' strong-selling A320neo jet family, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The update of Pratt's GTF engine will boost fuel efficiency by 1% and deliver 4% higher thrust when it starts to roll out in 2024.
Pratt, owned by Raytheon Technologies Corp, is banking on the combination of improvements to help win orders, with the higher thrust an advantage for Airbus' long-range narrow-body jet, the A321XLR. The XLR is expected to enter service in 2023.
The 1% improvement is a slender increase, but airlines are eager for any savings at a time of stressed balance sheets and oil prices, which had been creeping up until the recent spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The first update of the GTF engine since its introduction in 2016 is expected to be announced by Pratt on Thursday at a media event.
Pratt declined comment on the update, which already has been quietly marketed to certain airlines, said the sources, who spoke anonymously to discuss the matter ahead of the event.
Pratt faces rival CFM International, co-owned by France's Safran SA, and U.S.-based General Electric, whose engines power almost 60% of the A320 program's ordered jets.
The upgrade comes as airlines are under pressure to slash emissions with engine makers eying longer-term advances like hybrid-electric propulsion to improve fuel efficiency.
CFM has unveiled plans to test-build an open-bladed jet engine able to reduce fuel use and emissions by 20%. The "RISE" engine, could enter service by the mid-2030s.
Single-aisle jets like the A320 and Boeing Co's 737 MAX had been benefiting from a rebound in domestic traffic, which plunged in 2020 due to the pandemic. But new travel curbs introduced due to Omicron are raising questions over the sector's recovery.
It is not yet clear how effective the update will be in winning customers.
One of the sources said the improvements could help Pratt attract airlines during sales campaigns in regions that are hot or at altitude, where engines need more thrust, such as the Middle East.
In November, low-cost carrier Air Arabia said it was in talks with Pratt and its current supplier CFM for 240-250 engines for 120 Airbus A320neo jets.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Hartford, Conn.; Editing by Leslie Adler)