Paris Air Show

787 engine makers revel in record order numbers

 - June 11, 2007, 10:10 AM

When a new aircraft is breaking all sales records and only two engine companies compete to supply its power, it is hardly surprising that those two companies are sounding increasingly bullish. Boeing’s announcement in early April that the 787 had passed the 500-order milestone confirmed that the 787 has become the fastest selling commercial aircraft in its history.

“We never anticipated the 787 would go this fast,” said Tom Brisken, general manager of the GE Aviation GEnx turbofan program which, with Rolls-Royce’s Trent 1000, is sharing in the booty.

Almost simultaneously with the Boeing announcement, General Electric revealed that GEnx orders had passed the $10 billion mark, giving the U.S. manufacturer the chance to add its own superlative: that the GEnx is by far its fastest selling big-fan engine.

The GEnx market has been further strengthened by growing sales of the Boeing 747-8, and is likely to benefit even more from the probable launch of two new versions here at the Paris Air Show to power the Airbus A350XWB, which competes with the 787.

Brisken told Aviation International News that GE has been having “daily” talks with the airframer about powering the new Airbus. “We very much want to join the A350 program,” he said. “We’ve been looking at installation issues at tradeoffs to ensure the engine is sized properly.”

The XWB engines would be based on the GEnx, but with an all-new bill of materials benefiting from the six-year gap between entry into service of the Boeing 787 in 2008 and the A350. “We pretty well drained the swamp of new technologies when we designed the GEnx,” said Brisken, “but we have some exciting things in the pipeline and the XWB would benefit from that.”

If, as seems highly likely, GE agrees to power the A350, there will be two engine versions: an 87,000-pound-thrust version for the larger, 314-seat A350XWB-900 and a derated 75,000-pound derivative for the 270-seat -800.

Brisken confirmed GE’s previous position on powering the largest A350XWB, the 350-seat -1000. “We’re very happy with our agreement on the Boeing 777-300ER,” he said, referring to the sole-powerplant deal GE scored with Boeing to power the longest range 777, which would compete directly with the Airbus. “It is selling very well and looks as if it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.” He added that, in any case, “we don’t at this point know much about the dash 1000 in terms of what kind of engine it would need.”

The Boeing 747-8 is what Brisken calls the “sleeper” in the GEnx program. As of mid-April, orders had built up to 81 firm aircraft, equivalent to 324 engines. Taken together, GE is forecasting a requirement to build engines to power 10 Boeing 787s and two 747-8s per month. “But we’re looking at both figures going up, to maybe sixteen 787s and three 747s,” said Brisken, adding that GE “has never experienced a widebody program in which the forecast has actually increased four years after launch.”

If the A350XWB comes on board, Brisken said GE is looking at a total GEnx market of up to 6,000 aircraft–double the forecast when a replacement for the Boeing 767 was first mooted.

Flight testing of the GEnx has been “phenomenally successful,” with a demonstrated 15-percent improvement in fuel burn over the General Electric CF34-2 predicted at entry into service. Flights aboard the Boeing 747 testbed aircraft have typically lasted six hours.

Trent 1000 on Schedule
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce’s director of Boeing programs, Dominic Horwood, has declared that the UK company is “ecstatic” with the 787 program, for which it won coveted launch engine status on all three variants of the aircraft.

The Trent 1000 program is progressing  well, with Horwood predicting that the engine will be easily the best seller in the Trent family, of which the Trent 1000 is the fifth member. He pointed to the strong marketing position of the new engine in terms of operational experience, which amounts to more than 35 million flying hours since the first Trent entered service in 1995.

The Trent 1000 first ran in February 2006, exactly on schedule, and within a few weeks had demonstrated it was capable of producing 87,000 pounds of thrust against the certification requirement of 75,000 pounds. Testing to date has been flawless, said Horwood, involving nine engines and more than 1,000 hours and 2,000 cycles of testing. Some of this has been carried out in the U.S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Center high-altitude test chamber, and was completed by mid-May, leading directly to the flight test program aboard Rolls-Royce’s Boeing 747-200 flying testbed modified for the Trent 1000 in association with L-3 Communications.

Testing to date has, said Horwood, “met all of Boeing’s targets for the 787.” Certification testing was due to be completed in time for shipment of the first pair of engines to Boeing for the 787 rollout on July 8. This included two 150-hour type tests, and the tough 1,000-hour initial maintenance interval test, mandated by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to demonstrate the mechanical integrity of the engine.

Medium and large birdstrike tests have been successfully carried out, as well as the critical fan-blade-off trial in which a fan blade is deliberately separated from the engine at full power to demonstrate the integrity of the fan case.

“This is a challenging program,” said Horwood, “but we’re very proud of results so far.” He added that Rolls-Royce is now powering up for the production program, having secured orders for 177 Boeing 787s, including those from launch customer All Nippon Airways, which is scheduled to begin operating the aircraft in mid-2008.

Despite the fact that the company has sold fewer than half the powerplants to date for the 787, Horwood said, “the message is that Rolls-Royce remains determined to retain its leading position on all of the modern widebodies and is driving to achieve at least half of the Boeing 787 market.”

Powerplant orders for up to 20 Boeing 787s are expected soon, reported Horwood, but further ahead lie some very significant potential customers, including British Airways, Singapore Airlines and several large U.S. carriers.

The battles to provide power may be between just two manufacturers, but they will be as hard fought as any to date.