Aircelle aims for foothold in next-gen narrowbodies

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 7, 2008, 9:29 AM

After missing out on key program selections for the new Airbus A350XWB and Boeing 787 programs, French nacelle maker Aircelle is laying plans for what
it could offer the next generation of narrowbody airliners. The company says it has plenty of work from existing programs, including a subcontract for Goodrich on the A380 program. However, it has acknowledged that it will need to move some manufacturing into lower-cost economies to become competitive in the face of the dollar’s weakness against the euro.

Nacelles currently account for 85 percent of Aircelle’s business. In addition to providing them for both the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney GP7200 and Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines on the A380, the company also houses the A318’s Pratt & Whitney PW6000 powerplant, the Snecma-NPO Saturn SaM146 turbofan on Russia’s new Superjet 100 airliner and the Dassault Falcon 7X’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307 engine.

Thrust reversers are the other main facet of Aircelle’s product portfolio, and it is now raising its annual output of these from 500 to 550 units. It also makes air intake units and some aerostructures.

Current production includes reversers for the A340, A330 and A320 airliners, Embraer’s E-170 and ERJ 135/145 regional jets, as well as for business jets such as Gulfstream’s G500 and 550 and Bombardier’s Global Express, Global 5000 and Challenger 300. To date, Aircelle’s only presence on a Boeing aircraft is the thrust reverser it makes for Rolls-Royce’s RB211 engines. It has said that it has no interest in developing thrust reversers for the new very light jets.

According to Aircelle’s new chairman and CEO Jean-Pierre Cojean, the company is at a turning point. In January 2007, it lost out to Goodrich on a $10 billion, 20-year deal to provide nacelles and thrust reversers for the new A350XWB and the U.S. company has also squeezed it out of 787 work.

Its anticipated earnings also were impacted by the delays to production of the A380, with it delivering just 12 nacelles for the program last year. However, this year it will deliver 87 units, a figure that should rise to 125 in 2009.

“The A380 is a revolution for us and we are ramping up our production,” said Cojean. The program is set to account for about a quarter of Aircelle’s revenues this year and that proportion could climb to one third by 2010.

Despite the A350 and 787 setbacks, Cojean still aspires to win about half the Airbus and Boeing market for nacelles and thrust reversers. Much of this would have to come from the new generation of airliners replacing the ubiquitous A320 and 737 families. As yet, neither airframer has outlined a firm timetable for either program but both are expected to be in production within 10 years.

According to Cojean, Aircelle (Hall 4 Stand B12) would establish a North American manufacturing base if it ever wins work directly from Boeing. In the nacelle sector, Aircelle considers itself to have three main rivals: Goodrich, Spirit Aerosystems (a former Boeing subsidiary) and Middle River Aircraft Systems (part of the General Electric group). Cojean said this is one company too many for the marketplace. In fact, GKN Aerospace also makes nacelles for programs such as the Challenger 300.
To ensure that it is one of the survivors, Aircelle is pressing to achieve greater efficiency and productivity from its factories. The group’s seven sites employ 3,500 people and more than half of these employees work at the main facility at Le Havre
in northern France. The other four French sites are at Plaisir in the Paris area, Toulouse, Pont-Audemer and Florange. It also has facilities at Burnley, UK, and Casablanca, Morocco.

Cojean insisted that initiatives to move some work (such as machined parts) to lower-cost economies such as China, India and Poland will not result in the loss of jobs in either France or the UK. In fact, Aircelle is investing in its existing plants to meet anticipated twofold production increases for equipment supplied to Airbus for its airliner and business jet programs.

The Morocco plant already employs 236 people in composite manufacturing and nacelles assembly. The company expects both capacity and employment will double there by 2010.

Aircelle was formed in 2002 when Airbus merged its nacelle operation with Safran subsidiary Hurel-Hispano, which had brought together Hispano-Suiza Aerostructures and Hurel Dubois. Cojean joined the company from fellow Safran group subsidiary Snecma.

The CEO sees big growth opportunities in the aftermarket, with its spare parts and repair business now accounting for 11 percent of its revenues. Aircelle is taking on this work from airframers, engine makers and other nacelle manufacturers, which previously provided product support directly to operators.

Aircelle is also involved in Europe’s Clean Sky research-and-development program. The focus of its efforts is to reduce aircraft weight by increasing the composite content in nacelles from its current level of around 60 percent to as much as 75- to 80 percent over the next 10 years.

“We also are seeking to add features to the thrust reverser to adapt the exhaust system, improve air penetration and reduce fuel burn and the impact of acoustics. I am pretty sure it will be ready for the next narrowbody,” Cojean concluded.

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