CFM confirmed Saturday that it has caught up on production of its Leap engine line, almost one year after company executives told reporters at the Farnborough Air Show that the company had fallen behind by as much as four weeks. The company met its target of delivering 1,100 engines in 2018 and fully expects to meet its 2019 goal of 1,800, representing a 60 percent year-over-year increase in production, reported CFM chief executive Gael Meheust during a pre-show briefing in Paris.
Leap engines in service last year registered a 96-percent utilization rate, equaling that of the far more “mature” CFM56, added Meheust. The company has completely addressed problems with the Leap-1A starter air valve, the -1B’s low-pressure turbine disk, and the -1A’s stage-two disk.
CFM introduced last August—on time—a solution to thermal barrier coating loss in the high-pressure turbine of both Leap variants and now awaits only the in-service results over the next year-and-a-half. Fuel leaks in both Leaps also forced CFM to redesign some tubes in the fuel system. That fix has received certification and the company plans to install the new configuration next month.
Another problem involved particles coming from a bearing in the Leap-1B’s radial drive shaft, which were getting caught in the oil filter screen due to inadequate lubrication. CFM established a Service Bulletin calling for inspection of the screen and devised a redesign scheduled for introduction in the next two months.
Finally, the company must still address a fuel nozzle carbon buildup in the -1A under certain operating conditions. For now, maintenance technicians must remove the nozzles to clean them, resulting in modest airplane downtime. CFM continues demonstration testing of new technology that cleans the nozzles while they remain inside the engine. It hopes to have introduced the system by the end of the year, said CFM executive vice president Allen Paxson.
“We do have design changes and a process to eliminate this for customers that need it in the future,” he noted. “However, those probably won't be available until early 2021. So it’s probably a year and a half away until we have a solution that we can put onto the engine that will prevent this from happening in all operational conditions.”
CFM (Chalet 119) certainly also hopes the Leap-1B-powered Boeing 737 Max returns to revenue service by then. But while questions over the effects of Boeing’s rate reduction from 52 to 42 a month kept arising during the briefing in Paris, Paxson said the Max crisis has affected the engine company more from the need to take measures to preserve engines of the grounded airplanes than from any production interruption.
“In the field, which has been most of our focus quite frankly, is when you set the airplanes down. We want to make sure that the engines are preserved, that oil systems are preserved appropriately when they're sat down, that engines are covered so we don’t have birds nesting in them, and things like that,” explained Paxson.
“And then we get busy and use the downtime to do a preventative maintenance and get ahead of things. There have been some engines requiring maintenance...We want to get those tasks done...We’re really are very focused on getting this back into service in a very smooth way.”
Despite Boeing’s rate cut, CFM continues to build engines at the rates it agreed before the Max crisis, said the executives assembled for the briefing. So it continues to deliver engines as if Boeing still built 52 per month, leaving Boeing with the job of juggling inventory and storage. “We’ve made minor adjustments at the piece-part level...to align ourselves with the production demand,” said Paxson.
“We have some levers [with the supply chain], added Meheust. "We have levers because everybody believes that the airplane will fly again in the next months. We don't know exactly if it’s two months, three months, four months, I don’t know. But the commercial discussions with customers are still open and we deliver spares, and this is a good lever because we are delivering a lot of spares per year. So this is a way we can manage the supply chain at this time.”