Until 1980, Swissair's fleet was 100 percent powered by General Electric engines. On July 4, 1980, that all changed when Swissair bought Pratt & Whitney's JT9D engine, which triggered the conversion of its entire engine fleet from GE to Pratt & Whitney engines. It was a decision that drove Pratt & Whitney's expansion into the European aviation market.
In honor of the conversion, a bell was presented to Pratt & Whitney marketing director of the Swissair account, Richard Inman. That bell will now become part of the Pratt & Whitney museum collection. When the "Swiss bell" is rung, it leaves both a resonating sound, and memory, of Pratt & Whitney's rise in Europe.
Leading up to 1980, Swissair ordered 10 of Pratt & Whitney's PWJT9D engines for its A310 launch engine and converted its overhaul shop from GE to the PWJT9D. Later Swissair ordered six MD-11s with Pratt & Whitney's PW4000 engine, introducing the PW4000 into Europe and making it the launch engine for the MD-11. Swissair also converted its overhaul shop to the PW4000.
The conversion was monumental for Pratt & Whitney. "Swissair was probably one of the most respected airlines in the world and when they picked Pratt & Whitney engines, it was a powerful approval of our product, which was noted throughout the industry," Inman said.
This was a huge moment for Pratt & Whitney, but it was not without its challenges.
It took several engine competitions involving Airbus and Douglas for the deal to come through in Pratt & Whitney's favor. It all came down to quality. "The superiority of the JT9D and PW4000 engines triggered the gradual conversion to 100 percent Pratt & Whitney engines and overhaul shop," Inman said.
Pratt & Whitney's business with Swissair established it as a leader in Europe's aviation market. The Swiss bell helps to preserve that piece of history. More than just a gift, the bell is a symbol of Pratt & Whitney's enduring excellence in the aviation industry.