Meeting the Operational Challenge

 - June 5, 2009, 12:06 PM

In both engineering and visual terms, the open rotor is a huge departure from the turbofans that power today’s aircraft. As such, Rolls-Royce believes its market acceptance will involve a comprehensive understanding of the operational environment in which it will function.

Two years ago, the company formed a Future Programmes team specifically to look at the implications of the open rotor in the passenger airliner market. Part of the motivation was Rolls’ recent experience with the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 programs, each of which required major last-minute changes to the engines. The fan diameter of the Trent 900 powering the A380 had to be increased because of tougher noise restrictions at London Heathrow, while the Boeing 787 weight growth meant the thrust of the Trent 1000 had to grow.

“Redesigning during development is never the right way to go,” said Robert Nuttal, vice president for strategic marketing at Rolls-Royce. Under the new approach, Rolls-Royce is going out into the field, talking to all stakeholders in the air transport business, including operators, passengers, airports, the air traffic management community, environmentalists and so on. “It’s a very complicated world out there, and we’re asking the question, ‘If there is a need for an aircraft in 10, 20 or even 40 years, what is it going to look like?’

“We have to be flexible, play with the variables and assemble the relevant technologies in a Lego-like way so that we can respond with the right package,” Nuttal added. “Then, if we get a ‘go for it’ phone call from an airframer, we can respond with what we think is the right answer based on our own studies.”

As an example, Rolls-Royce recently commissioned a survey of 800 travelers to see what they thought about the open-rotor concept. The result came as a surprise. “They were far more positive than we thought they would be,” said Nuttal. “It turns out they trusted the aviation industry to get it right. They were also interested in the development of more fuel-efficient engines.”

The Future Programmes team is now involved in all new engine programs, looking beyond the airframers to the market. “We were too customer-focused to the airframers,” said Nuttal. “Now we’re looking at the operators and the environment they’re in as well.”