Farnborough Air Show

Orders by discount lines sustain CFM sales surge

 - November 14, 2006, 11:56 AM

Engine manufacturers are enjoying the boom in civil aircraft sales as much as other suppliers, but this does not mean the battle for orders is any less tough. The pace set by CFM International last year, when the 50/50 General Electric/Snecma partnership sold a record 1,640 engines, seems likely to continue this year.

CFMI (Hall 4 Stand B13) is claiming to have won almost 74 percent of the market for 18,500- to 33,000-pound-thrust engines so far, winning orders for more than 1,000 turbofans. The General Electric/Snecma joint venture admits that this figure includes around 200 engines not counted in the flurry of last-minute orders for Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s at the end of last year, but nevertheless it is clear it is on a roll.

According to CFMI this year thus far has also been remarkable for the number of orders placed by the low-cost carriers. Southwest Airlines, new Indian start-up GoAir, Spice Jet, Hamburg International, Mexico’s Interjet and Italy’s Air One among them have ordered CFM engines worth more than $1.7 billion.

CFMI marketing vice president Pierre Bry agrees the low costs have been instrumental in keeping sales high and he predicts that the rest of this year will be “similar.” He claims CFMI’s strength in the field is based largely on its advantage in terms of maintenance costs. “The CFM56 core was originally derived from a military engine with a single-stage high-pressure turbine,” he told Aviation International News. “It has fewer parts than the competition’s two-stage HPT, and 36 percent of an engine’s materials costs come from that part of the engine.”

The partnership is less sanguine about the competition, in the form of Pratt & Whitney, pursuing its own campaign to sell CFM56 spares to the airlines. The opening page on CFMI’s Web site now contains reminders that it is important to be sure of the quality of every replacement part. “With genuine CFM parts,” it states “you have the reassurance of knowing that they have been tested as part of a complete working engine. And have therefore demonstrated the right properties, tolerances and downstream systems effects.” Another page points to potential reliability issues: “When introducing new team-members, you need to be certain that they’ll fit in, work effectively alongside the others and be reliable over the long term.”

Bry, carefully avoiding the reliability issue, said only that CFMI has an “extremely conservative” testing regime for the CFM56. “We compute a life cycle of 30,000 flight cycles, and then declare a life of 20,000 cycles,” he explained. “But in service we don’t allow that–we check how a part is behaving before it reaches 10,000 cycles and release more only if we’re happy with it.” Clearly the battle is on, but Bry said that in the end, “the FAA will decide whether Pratt & Whitney’s CFM56 parts are suitable or not.”

Tech Insertion on Track

Meanwhile, the CFM56 Tech Insertion program continues on track for service entry next year. In February, CFMI announced it had completed a 63-hour flight test program on the Tech Insertion package, paving the way for certification in June. The company reported “outstanding” results from the flight trials aboard a Boeing 747 test bed last November.

Tech Insertion kits will be made available to airlines as a retrofit option for the CFM56-5B and CFM56-7B engines, respectively powering Airbus A318/A319/ A320/A321 and Boeing 737-600/700/800/ 900 families, of which there are around 6,000 examples in service. The kit includes improvements to all major rotating components as well as the combustor, which will provide longer time-on-wing, 5 percent lower maintenance costs and 15 to 20 percent lower emissions of oxides of nitrogen as well as lower fuel burn. According to Bry, it is too early to say whether airlines will order Tech Insertion kits. “We believe it makes a lot of sense, but some airlines will no doubt consider the impact on the resale value of engines which have not been updated,” he concluded.

Under the LEAP56 program, work continues on developing the technologies for the engine that will power the next generation of single-aisle aircraft. Bry said CFMI is “no closer” to defining an engine “because that will have to await the airframers’ decision on what they’re going to do.” Interestingly, he said the engine that would be offered for service entry in 2012-2013 would be significantly less “exotic” than one for an aircraft coming onto the market six years later. “This could incorporate more electric engine technologies, be extremely lightweight and considerably more fuel efficient.”