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GE Aviation Aims For Top Tier In Aerostructures

 - June 17, 2013, 5:30 AM
Since earlier this year GE Aviation has been delivering A350 wing fixed trailing-edge components that include structural composite panels and complex machined assemblies. The company said the work package means that, as a risk-sharing partner, it has “proved our capabilities and created a secure foundation to build on.”

GE Aviation, best known for its civil and military jet engines and integrated aircraft systems, plans to establish itself as a Tier 1 aerostructures supplier by the second half of the next decade. Ultimately, the company has a long-term vision to develop integrated propulsion systems (IPS) for future single-aisle airliners and regional aircraft, bringing together GE Aviation’s aerostructures capabilities in advanced wing and flying-control surface design with its turboprop engine and propeller activities in other divisions.

These businesses are seen as uniquely positioning GE Aviation (Chalet B107 and Hall 2A Stand C252) to participate in future airframe programs such as replacements for Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families or next-generation regional airliners, according to GE Aviation aerostructures and nacelles president Steve Walters. To this end, Walters has been preparing the aerostructures group via a strategy that includes participation in key industry research and development (R&D) projects.

Walters wants the division to enhance its operational capability and capacity through major investments in plant improvements and by expansion into regions with low-cost production capacity, such as China. A former president of Nexcelle–the GE/Safran joint venture to develop business jet and commercial aircraft IPSs–Walters has overseen current GE Aviation aerostructures activities, including the 3,000-component fixed trailing-edge package for the Airbus A350 XWB’s wing–business that constitutes the largest production contract ever won in the 75-year history of GE Aviation’s Hamble (Southampton) facility in the UK.

GE Aviation has set three “horizons,” or time periods in which to evolve its aerostructures business through a global transformation in key programs, operational capability and R&D strategy. Its near-term aerostructures goal is focused on the A350 contract, but with a longer-term vision to continue changing the business model from a Tier 2/3 build-to-print (BTP) shop to becoming a Tier 1 “partner of choice” for future programs. “The strategy is to build upon customer- and industry-led R&D programs and operational capabilities to enable the business to win on short- and longer-term opportunities,” said Walters.

Key programs in the initial 2013-17 period include the launch of a turboprop IPS and continuing work on wings for widebody aircraft, with the company looking to secure a position on Boeing 777 control surfaces while investing in A350-related industrialization at Hamble. R&D during this time will cover component and process technology, and the company also will focus on developing a competitive cost position through enhanced productivity, said Walters.

GE Aviation has been operating in Suzhou (China) since 2009, but recognizes that it needs to look elsewhere for appropriate capacity in which to invest. For example, it expects to spend $50 million in constructing new facilities for operation from 2015.

Worldwide, it has about 400 engineers involved in the A350 wing program, according to Walters. The company sees continued growth in widebody wing work through the next horizon during 2018-24, in which period GE Aviation also plans to introduce its new turboprop IPS. This second stage in its evolution should see the company building a global-scale operational capability, while also right-sizing its footprint.

GE Aviation is going to be a partner in a demonstrator wing project that also will involve the UK National Composites Centre. It is thought that this could contribute to Airbus A30X advanced wing architecture and integration, on which the company would like to be involved after about 2025. Also in the years either side of 2020, GE Aviation wants to continue expanding low-cost capacity.

The company’s third horizon, the period after 2025, could see it become involved with key open-rotor propulsion and advanced wing-technology programs. By that time, GE Aviation wants to be a global business with full design and build capability focused on its wing expertise, said Walters. The company sees itself as becoming fully aligned with the parent company’s core strategy, especially in integrated propulsion and aerostructures business that could contribute to a next-generation single-aisle program.

Meanwhile, since earlier this year GE Aviation has been delivering A350 wing fixed trailing-edge components that include structural composite panels and complex machined assemblies. The work package means that, as a risk-sharing partner, the company has “proved our capabilities and created a secure foundation [on which] to build,” concluded Walters.

GE Aviation’s Hamble facility specializes in design and manufacture of wing leading- and trailing-edge assemblies, flying-control surfaces, empennage components, fairings, nacelles, in-flight refueling systems, and “role” equipment. It supplies integrated canopy and windscreen systems and provides repairs and upgrades for both civil and military aircraft structures.