Orders drop at CFM, but LEAP-X goes on

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 14, 2009, 8:08 AM

New engine orders slumped badly for CFM International during the first five months of this year. The French-U.S. partnership sold just 303 engines through May 31–less than a quarter of the (admittedly exceptional) total of 1,342 sold in the same period in 2008.

However, CFM president and CEO Eric Bachelet told a press conference here in Paris on Saturday that the company has actually received cancellations for only four engines. He said that in current market conditions he would be happy if CFM ends 2009 with 600 orders.

CFM has found that the single-aisle section of the airliner business seems to be less badly dented than the widebody, long-haul end. At the same time, domestic airline markets in China, the Middle East and South America have so far held up fairly well, while carriers in other parts of Asia are now starting to feel the pinch quite badly.

According to CFM, airline traffic worldwide is around 20 to 30 percent down on last year. But despite this, its spare parts business for the first five months of this year has not dropped, as had been expected.

Despite the sharp dip in new orders, production levels for 2009 are holding firm for the 18,500- to 34,000-pound-thrust family of CFM56 turbofans that power both Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 twinjets. Bachelet said he is confident that CFM will produce around 1,250 engines this year–about the same as in 2007 and 2008. He concluded that it is hard to predict how demand will unfold from mid-2010, but expressed a belief that markets will improve during 2011 and 2012.

In the meantime, CFM is pressing ahead with development of its LEAP-X new engine technology (see page 66). This is expected to deliver significant improvements in fuel burn, nitrous oxide emissions and noise and will be available to power the next generation of single-aisle airliners from around 2016.

Under LEAP-X, CFM’s 100-hour “eCore 1” test program began on Friday. It will simulate ground and altitude conditions over the course of two months of continuous testing of aerodynamics, performance, aeromechnical response, operability, TAPS II combustor operability and systems dynamics. The results of the test will be incorporated into “eCore 2” tests in mid-2011. CFM is making a “big effort” in developing key technologies for an open-fan engine with completion by early 2011 and potential entry into service by 2019-2020.

This year, CFM partners General Electric and Snecma are celebrating the 35th anniversary of their alliance, which has now been extended to run at least through 2040. The group expects to deliver its 20,000th engine in October.

Bachelet emphasized CFM’s commitment to evaluating alternative fuels in a ground-tested biofuel mix that Virgin Atlantic Airways flew with last year. The mix included 20 percent of Generation 1 biofuel using vegetable oils such as coconut oil and Jatropha.

This year, in the first demonstration flight on a twin-engine aircraft involving Continental Airlines and a CFM 56-7-powered Boeing 737-800, a Generation 2 biofuel was employed using Jatropha and algae (5 percent). The aim is to use biofuels that are not derived from plants used for food. In 2010, a collaborative test by Interjet of Mexico and a CFM56-5B-powered A320 aircraft will use Salicornia, a halophyte (saltwater plant) indigenous to Mexico that grows in near-desert coastal land and that also is not competitive with food crops.   

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