GE Charts Course for Robust Bizav Business

 - February 2, 2012, 5:15 AM
The GE H-80 has been chosen to power the L410 commuter aircraft, and GE expects other applications to follow soon.

GE Aviation, while it may still be associated largely with commercial and military powerplants, has been focusing its gaze on the business aviation market over the past several years.

Shawn O’Day, head of the company’s business and general aviation marketing, told AIN that although business aviation has historically been a segment of opportunity for GE, it is an area where the engine and systems maker sees potential. In fact, the company signaled its intention to expand its business and general aviation footprint at last year’s Paris Air Show.

“We have to look at adjacencies and at other areas of the business and where we want to grow,” O’Day said. “Business aviation, because it’s an area with significant growth opportunity for us, became one of those strategic places.”

The company is certainly no stranger to business aviation. Its powerplants can be found on some of the earliest Learjets, and its CF-34 series of engines has powered Bombardier’s large-cabin Challengers for nearly 30 years, with close to 800 engines now in service. Now it has three new business aviation engine programs under development.

At the 2010 NBAA Convention, Bombardier announced that it had selected GE as the engine supplier for its newly launched Global 7000 and 8000 ultra-long-range jets and at last year’s Ebace, the engine maker announced the name of the new engine (which was referred to as the Tech-X during its engineering development phase) as Passport.

According to O’Day, the engine, which is scheduled for certification in 2015, recently passed its design review or “Tollgate 3” by company leadership. The E-core demonstrator, from which this engine and its possible commercial narrowbody or regional jet siblings will develop, is undergoing testing. The first one-piece bladed disk (blisk) for the new 16,500-pound-thrust engine was machined recently, according to O’Day. This component will help lower noise and vibration in the engine by eliminating the need for separate blades to be installed on a rotor. It is also aimed at reducing the engine’s weight, and the company’s intended use of composites will support that goal.

“The engine was designed specifically for business aviation,” said O’Day, who noted the company spent a great deal of time speaking with customers and aircraft manufacturers to determine the developing needs of the large-cabin market. “These airplanes are being designed to fly 7,000 to 8,000 miles, so that means the engine has to have low weight and–more important–low fuel burn.”

Another advance is in the slim-line nacelle–currently being designed by Nexcelle, a joint-venture between GE and French systems manufacturer Safran–which will wrap the new engine in a low-drag package.

“Historically the engine company builds the engine and then has somebody wrap a nacelle, reverser and structure around it,” said O’Day, who noted the Passport represents a change in that practice. “It is the first time we’ve developed a complete integrated propulsion system. What we did here is we had our engineering teams both on the nacelle and engine sides working together. It might be the first time in history that this was done in such an integrated fashion.”

GE says the Passport will get up to 20 percent better specific fuel consumption compared with the previous generation of engine and claims it will have an 8-percent better SFC than its nearest competitor. The use of oil dampened bearings will further decrease noise and vibration, elements crucial for a business aviation application.

In 2004, GE announced a partnership with Honda to further develop the powerplant for the twin-engine HondaJet. The 1,770-pound-thrust HF-118-2 that had been under development for nearly two decades was used as the basis for an upgraded version designated the HF-120. The new engine, which has been flying on the HondaJet since December 2010, produces approximately 2,100 pounds of thrust and has made more than 100 test flights since it was installed.

As announced at last year’s NBAA Convention, the program suffered a setback when the engine failed during an on-ground ice ingestion test, forcing a redesign of the engine fan. That revision has pushed back certification of the engine from the end of 2011 until second half of this year, delaying deliveries of the new light jet until at least mid-2013.

A spokesman for GE Honda Aero said the redesigned fan blades are slightly thicker, but that the redesign would force a considerable portion of the “air work” performed on the original design to be repeated. Also complicating the redesign is that the fan, like that in the Passport, is a single forged blisk.

The HF-120 provides a better thrust-to-weight-ratio, lower fuel burn, lower emissions, and lower noise as well as reduced vibration. “When we look at a commercial engine versus a business aviation engine, we’re really making sure that the unique needs of the business aviation products are being addressed,” said O’Day. “SFC, low noise and vibration how that manifests itself in the cabin become important in this market, and that’s translated into the requirement that we give engineering as they design the product.”

Turboprop Engine Gets Approval

GE Aviation jumpstarted its entry into the turboprop market when it acquired Czech manufacturer Walter Engines in June 2008, and rebranded it as GE Business and General Aviation Turboprops. With its purchase, GE inherited the dependable M601 engine, which has attained more than 17 million flight hours on more than 30 applications since its introduction in 1975.

Once the deal was complete, GE immediately began to upgrade the powerplant, wringing out an additional 7-percent SFC over the standard M601 as well as a boost of 50 horsepower through the use of 3-D aerodynamic design techniques and new materials.

After nearly a year of certification test flying on the Thrush 510G agricultural aircraft, the resulting M601H-80 (or H-80) received EASA certification last month, making it the company’s first aviation engine to receive its initial type certification from the European agency. According to GE, the H-80 is also designed for durability with an extended service life of 3,600 flight hours or 6,600 cycles between overhauls along with increased hot-and-high performance.

In addition to the Thrush 510G, the new engine has also been selected to power other aircraft, including the venerable twin-engine Aircraft Industries L410 Turbolet commuter airplane, which recently made its first flight powered by the new engines, and Technoavia’s 10-passenger Rysachok twin, currently under development. The company expects additional applications will follow soon. “We already have the M601 with the King Air C90 STC, so we’ll definitely look at using the H-80 for additional performance on that STC,” said O’Day.

As the engine enters service, the company has prepared a network of service and support centers. Missouri-based Premier Turbines has been named a designated repair center for both the M601 and the H-80 engines in North and South America, while an additional nine locations were designated as authorized service centers throughout North and South America and Australasia.

Customer Service Improvements

With these new programs in the pipeline, GE has also sought to upgrade its business aviation customer service.

An initiative called Customer Connect relies heavily on customer feedback to improve customer service performance. In addition to poring over the results in the annual product support surveys in AIN and other publications, the company conducts its own internal polling of customer satisfaction and established two new advisory committees made up of customers, one for the large-cabin business jet market, and another for the turboprop segment.

Based upon feedback from these committee meetings, GE Aviation revamped and relaunched its business and general aviation website to make it easier for customers to find the information they require.

“We look at all the areas where we can influence and affect the customer’s perception of us,” said O’Day, who added that new customers receive a welcome kit that includes not just coffee mugs and other giveaways but detailed information introducing them to their customer service manager and their field service representatives. Those representatives are expected to contact their customers on a regular basis.