GE and Boeing offering “loaner” engines for 747-8 BBJs

 - April 29, 2011, 9:10 AM

GE and Boeing are collaborating on a program to offer their 747-8I BBJ/VIP customers optional “loaner” GEnx-2B engines to ferry their aircraft to completion centers. Called the “GE Pusher Program,” it would use engines from flight-test aircraft for the ferry flight. Those engines would be removed at the completion center and shipped back to GE. Following aircraft completions, estimated at 18 to 24 months for the 747-8I BBJ, customers would receive new, updated engines from GE at no extra charge.

Customers would still have to pay the full $318 million for the “green” aircraft, but they would not have to purchase the engines, estimated to cost $15 million each, as early in the build cycle. Initial aircraft engines would come from the flight test or lease pool. Once the completion project is finished, customers would receive new engines anticipated to incorporate at least two performance improvement packages (PIP) GE has under way on the GEnx-1B engines that have been developed for the 787 Dreamliner. A GE spokeswoman said those improvements involve changes to the low-pressure turbine and the high-pressure compressor. Together, they are expected to result in modest specific fuel consumption improvements. The GEnx engines are already up to 15 percent more efficient than the GE CF6-series engines that power the 747-400. While no formal PIP is under way for the Dash 2B engines, it is widely believed they will eventually incorporate the Dash 1B PIPs.

A Boeing spokeswoman said five of the eight signed 747-8I BBJ customers have opted for the engine pusher program to date and that the program will provide them with the advantages of not having to maintain the engines while airplanes sit at completion centers, along with the benefit of receiving “the latest configuration engine” when the airplane is placed into service. “They will get a technically better engine.”

Kevin Roundhill, Boeing regional product manager, said the program has the potential to save customers an unspecified but “substantial” amount of money.” The program will not, however, speed the completion process, according to Rob Tomenendal, vice president of Gore Design Completions, one of seven factory-authorized 747-8I completion centers. “We don’t mess with the airplane in terms of systems,” he said. “When the airplane shows up we pickle the engines in accordance with manufacturer instructions so it is not an issue for us.” However, he did agree that the program offers obvious benefits. “From the customer standpoint, knowing that the airplane is going to be in completion for 18 to 24 months, that’s a lot of time to come off the engines for not doing anything. From Boeing’s and the customer’s perspective, knowing that they are getting virtually brand-new engines before taking delivery of the airplane out of completion is a big deal.”

A Boeing spokeswoman said the company and GE were looking at expanding the program “to the rest of our VIP airplanes” eventually, but it is “only for the 747-8s so far.”

The first 747-8I is expected to arrive at a completion center late this year or early next following aircraft certification. Boeing unveiled the aircraft February 13 and flew it for the first time five weeks later. Jet Aviation and L3 have announced firm completion contracts for the aircraft while Lufthansa Technik and Amac have announced customer letters of commitment/intent for a combined six aircraft.