GE/Boeing to loan engines to ferry 747-8 BBJs

 - May 16, 2011, 8:50 PM

General Electric and Boeing are collaborating on a program to offer their 747-8I BBJ/VIP customers optional “loaner” GEnx-2B engines to ferry their aircraft to completion centers. Called the GE Pusher Program, it would use engines from flight-test aircraft for the ferry flight. Those engines would then be removed at the completion center and shipped back to GE. Following aircraft completions, estimated at 18 to 24 months for the 747-8I BBJ, customers would receive new, updated engines from GE at no extra charge.

Customers would still have to pay the full $318 million for the green aircraft, but they would not have to purchase the engines, estimated to cost $15 million each, as early in the build cycle. Initial aircraft engines would come from the flight test or lease pool.

Upon completion, customers would receive new engines anticipated to incorporate at least two of the performance improvement packages (PIP) that GE has under way on the GEnx-1B engines that have been developed for the 787 Dreamliner. A GE spokeswoman said those improvements involve changes to the low-pressure turbine and the high-pressure compressor. Together, they are expected to result in modest specific fuel consumption improvements.

The GEnx engines already are up to 15 percent more efficient than the GE CF6 series engines that power the 747-400, she said. While no formal PIP is under way for the Dash 2B engines, it is widely believed that they eventually will incorporate the Dash 1B PIPs.

Substantial Savings

A Boeing spokeswoman said that, to date, five of the eight signed 747-8I BBJ customers have opted for the engine pusher program, which would provide them with the advantages of not having to maintain the engines while airplanes sat at completion centers, along with the benefit of receiving “the latest configuration engine” when the airplane is placed into service.

Kevin Roundhill, Boeing regional product manager, said the program has the potential to save customers “a lot of money.” While he did not quantify the amount, he said the savings would be “substantial.”

The program will not, however, speed the completion process, according to Rob Tomenendal, vice president of Gore Design Completions, one of seven factory-authorized 747-8I completion centers. “We don’t mess with the airplane in terms of systems,” he said. “When the airplane shows up we pickle the engines in accordance with manufacturer instructions so it is not an issue for us.”

However, he did agree that the program offers obvious benefits. “From the customer standpoint, knowing that the airplane is going to be in completion for 18 to 24 months, that’s a lot of time to come off the engines for not doing anything. From Boeing and the customer’s perspective, knowing that they are getting virtually brand-new engines prior to taking delivery of the airplane out of completion is a big deal.”

A Boeing spokeswoman said the company and GE are looking at expanding the program “to the rest of our VIP airplanes” eventually, but it is “only for the 747-8s so far.”

The first 747-8I is expected to arrive at a completion center late this year or early next, following aircraft certification. Boeing unveiled the aircraft February 13 and flew it for the first time five weeks later. Jet Aviation and L3 have announced firm completion contracts for the aircraft, while rival completions houses Lufthansa Technik and AMAC Aerospace have announced customer letters of commitment/intent for a combined six aircraft.