Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Anticipated Major A320neo Orders Will Likely Mean Good News for CFM’s Leap-X Engine

 - June 19, 2011, 9:10 PM

Major orders for the new CFM International Leap-X turbofan engine are due to be announced during the first four days of the Paris show, intensifying the battle with Pratt & Whitney to power the Airbus A320neo. “We’re set for this to be one of our best shows ever,” said the company.

Pratt & Whitney won all but one of the early engine competitions with its PW1100G geared turbofan, securing firm orders for 480 engines from Lufthansa, ILFC and IndiGo. Just before the show opened, however, CFM launched the Leap-X orderbook with a deal for 60 engines from Virgin America for its 30 A320neos. The airline was an existing CFM customer, but is understood to have selected the Leap-X only after the engine manufacturer met tough performance guarantees.

With Airbus predicting that A320neo orders would top 500 aircraft by the end of the show and 1,000 by the end of the year, the engine competition is being particularly hard-fought.

Speaking just before the show began, CFM vice president Chaker Chahrour attacked Pratt & Whitney for spreading “myths and propaganda” about the Leap-X that claimed it would run hotter than the PW1100G because its direct-drive fan system would require higher turbine entry temperatures. “We absolutely dispute this,” he told AIN. “The Leap X-1A will run at exactly the same temperature as today’s CFM56, which remains on-wing for 40,000 hours, the equivalent to around ten years of operations.”

Olivier Savin, also CFM v-p, admitted that the recent critical decision to increase the fan diameter of the Leap engine by two inches, to 78 inches (to meet Airbus’s demand for an equivalent fuel burn to the PW1100G), has driven changes to the rest of the engine. “But we weren’t yet at design freeze,” he said. “This is part of a normal design process. The fan is now at its optimum diameter.”

Although the change has added some weight to the Leap engine, the bigger fan increases bypass ratio from 10:1 to 11:1, bringing a corresponding 2 percent reduction in fuel burn. Both engines now offer a 15-percent improvement in fuel burn over existing A320 powerplants, enabling Airbus to offer them with fuel-burn parity.

“Customers are putting reliability at entry into service as their highest priority,” said Savin. He insisted the Leap-X, although a new engine, benefits from mature technologies developed in the GE90 and GEnx programs. “We’ll also have 800 million hours of highly reliable CFM experience by service entry,” he said.

On the question of what Boeing will do to compete with the A320neo, Chahrour said CFM is in constant discussions with the airframer. “We have a new engine if they want to go with a new aircraft, and we can re-engine the existing 737. Boeing knows it will eventually have to come out with a new aircraft, probably by 2019. We want to do whatever is right for them.”

If Boeing elects to re-engine the 737, CFM could either offer a smaller version of the Leap-X or apply Leap-X technology to the existing CFM56-7BE, the latest development of the engine now powering the 737, due for entry into service this month.

Despite the global recession, CFM president and CEO Jean-Paul Ebanga predicted that the global single-aisle fleet will double by 2030, to 23,550 aircraft, equivalent to $400 billion worth of engine business. The manufacturer currently holds a backlog of around 5,600 engines and this year has sold 680 engines worth $6.8 billion.

Ebanga said that even in a year of “headwinds” caused by the rise in oil prices, the tsunami in Japan and Middle East unrest, demand remains strong. “The next 20 years look very positive,” he added.

The Leap-X program is ahead of schedule with testing of the second development core having begun in May, a month earlier than scheduled. “So far we’ve had outstanding results,” Savin said.

Testing of the third and final versions is planned to begin in early 2013, with the first engine test later in the year. Certification is set for 2015 and service entry a year later.