Farnborough Air Show

Engine maker waits out A380 delay

 - November 15, 2006, 9:59 AM

Delays to the A380 program have not made things any easier for major suppliers such as the Engine Alliance (Hall 4 Stand A9), which currently has its first four production GP7200 engines mounted on an aircraft at Toulouse waiting for clearance to begin flight tests.

The engines were mounted onto A380 Serial Number 009 in February, ready for planned flight tests beginning in May. However, the aircraft will not take to the air until later this month at the earliest, denying the Alliance an important opportunity to publicize the GP7200–which follows the rival Rolls-Royce Trent 900 already powering the A380–here at the Farnborough airshow.

Engine Alliance president Bruce Hughes has acknowledged that the A380 delays have meant the GP7200 production program has also been held up. He told Aviation International News that the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney partnership may seek compensation from Airbus for the heavy financial losses incurred because of the one-year delay to the A380 program.

“We have quite a lot of inventory in the pipeline because we were anticipating an earlier schedule, so we’re building ahead to take account of that,” he said. “We’re holding a lot of inventory, and in the grand scheme of things there will be some financial impact.

“We’ll have discussions with Airbus on compensation, which is a normal step in these circumstances. But at the moment we’re trying to be as supportive as possible,” Hughes continued. “We have the first Emirates shipset completed and ready to deliver and we’re working the issue with Airbus. We realize Airbus is having difficulty but on the other hand we have to take the financials into account.”

Hughes said the latest six-month delay will see the engine schedule “slip to the right” by the same period. “So on the graph the curve is the same. We’re specifically targeting an early Emirates delivery but as Airbus is still working on its 2008 and 2009 schedules, we don’t yet have full visibility. We don’t, for example, know which aircraft will be delivered when, with Alliance or Rolls engines.”

Testing Continues

Meanwhile, testing of the GP7200 has continued with a recent 3,000-cycle test at the 77,000-pound-thrust rating, followed by a full strip down and hardware layout of the engine for inspection by the A380 airline working group and Airbus. “It looks good,” said Hughes. “We’ve made a few adjustments, but overall, performance on fuel and durability is better than specification.”

Another engine is involved in a further 3,000-cycle test to prove the GP7200 for four-engine long-range operations (LROPS). The European Aviation Safety Agency has issued its preliminary requirements for LROPS, but the final requirements will not be set until December. “We’re giving it our best shot in the interim,” Hughes explained. “The main thing we’re doing is demonstrating the engine at maximum continuous power levels relevant to an engine-out situation.”

As to further applications for the GP7200, Hughes is wary. The revamped Airbus A350 (now dubbed the A370) is one possibility, although the twin will have higher thrust requirements compared to the A380. “We’ve always been open to Airbus and Boeing to look at other applications, so we’re open to the A370,” said Hughes. “But we have to get Pratt & Whitney and GE approval before we can move forward and they are both still looking at their own potential programs.”

Hughes added that there would need to be some “pretty significant changes” to the engine to power the higher thrust variant of the A370. “We’re certified at 81,500 pounds thrust and can grow to 84,000 pounds with a few modifications. But to go to 95,000 pounds for the biggest projected A370 is a long way.”

In April, Air France Industries signed a milestone industrial cooperation agreement with the Alliance under which it will provide maintenance, repair and overhaul of the engine at a new Paris-based facility. Air France, with 10 A380s on order plus four options, was the first airline to specify the Alliance engine.