CFM International’s continuing production ramp-up for the Leap turbofan engine family is fully on track. Deliveries of Leap-1As to Airbus for A320neo-family jets and Leap-1Bs to Boeing for 737 Maxes are entirely on schedule and two technical issues previously identified in service are fixed, according to Gaël Méheust, president and CEO of the CFM joint venture.
Méheust told AIN that CFM delivered 861 Leap engines in the first half of 2019, “nearly twice as many as we delivered in the first half of 2018.” While the Leap production ramp-up “is still going on,” CFM expects to come close to its planned delivery target of 1,800 engines this year, despite Boeing’s decision following the 737 Max grounding in March to reduce its assembly rate from 52 aircraft a month to 42.
Ever since Boeing did so, CFM has maintained a delivery rate of 42 shipsets of Leap-1Bs to the airframer each month—at Boeing’s instruction—and if Boeing continues to require that delivery rate from CFM “we should not land very far from 1,800 Leap engines for the whole year,” said Méheust. “We’ll be a little south of that, but not far…so production hasn’t really been impacted” by the continuing grounding.
Two technical issues that led to some Leap production delays in 2018 and the first half of 2019 are now resolved, so CFM is delivering all Leap-1As to Airbus and Leap-1Bs to Boeing entirely on time, according to Méheust. “It is very satisfying to be on time and not have to deal with delays,” he said.
One issue involved thermal barrier coating degradation affecting the ceramic matrix composite shroud around the first high-pressure turbine stage of some Leap-1As and Leap-1Bs. CFM fixed that issue in 2018 and all engines now in service or being delivered have the fix installed. The second issue, which resulted in the in-flight shutdowns of five in-service Leap-1Bs, manifested itself in cockpit warning light indications that oil scavenged from engines’ accessory drive trains contained metallic particles.
That second problem resulted in CFM issuing a service bulletin in February and EASA then issuing an airworthiness directive in June requiring recurring inspections of the scavenge screens of Leap-1B transfer gearboxes. As of late October, CFM expected to complete certification of the fix for the second issue imminently, the fix being to redesign the bearing in the radial drive shaft taking power from the engine to the accessory and transfer gearboxes. “So soon engines will have the final fix and no more inspections” will be needed, said Méheust.
With those technical issues successfully behind it, CFM has achieved the full monthly production rate for the Leap-1A engine for which it originally planned, said Méheust. “The average [monthly rate] on the Leap-1A has reached the top of the climb, to use an aviation term,” he said. “We’re delivering the rate that is the high rate we were looking for.”
Asked what CFM might do if Boeing decides to halt 737 Max production if the grounding continues into 2020, Méheust responded, “It’s very difficult to know what is going to happen—we don’t see any sign of [737 Max assembly] slowing down—but we will adapt to whatever the customer wants. We will, of course, be flexible to any requirement they have—whether to slow down or increase the rate. Once the airplane is back in service there will be more opportunities to increase production, but now we’re focusing on supporting 42 a month and we’ll take it from there. There’s no doubt in my mind that things will go back to normal.”
Méheust revealed that, in preparation for the eventual communal or individual decisions by regulators to allow the 737 Max to return to commercial service, CFM has established a team at Renton to support Boeing’s return to delivery (RTD) process for when the airframer is allowed to resume deliveries.
Having rolled out at least 25 new 737 Maxes in March after the March 13 worldwide grounding of all in-service examples, and having continued to assemble Maxes at a reduced monthly rate of 42 aircraft from April, Boeing had put more than 300 into storage by the end of October. Depending on how long the grounding continues and on how long it takes Boeing to complete de-preservation of stored aircraft and then deliver them with all new software fixes installed (a process that is likely to take several months), the total number of stored new 737 Maxs could rise to 400 or more before all are finally delivered.
That number does not include the 378 already delivered to customers by March 19, all of which were subsequently placed into storage. The operators of those aircraft will also need to conduct de-preservation of their aircraft and install any required software fixes. So CFM has also established a Return To Service (RTS) team to support operators in getting their Leap-1B-powered aircraft back into operation.
“We’re engaging with operators, reviewing checklists and processes for de-preservation of the [Leap-1B] engines,” said Méheust. Spearheading these efforts are the approximately 250 field service representatives CFM has positioned throughout the world at or near individual operators’ main bases. Backing those reps’ on-the-ground support efforts with detailed, timely technical, and logistical support are support staff at GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines, CFM’s two equal joint-venture partners.
Future Leap and CFM56 Production
By the end of September, firm orders and other commitments for Leap engines (including spare engines) had reached a total of 18,755 units, and in late October Méheust told AIN that CFM expected to win more Leap orders before the end of the year. At CFM’s planned full Leap production rate of 2,000-plus engines a year from 2020 onward, the existing order backlog represents eight full years of production. The huge commitment total amassed by the Leap family since CFM launched development and production in 2008 makes it the fastest-selling commercial-turbofan program ever.
The Leap also has had the largest, quickest production ramp-up of any commercial jet engine. “There will be more Leap engines in service after five years than there were CFM56 engines after 25 years,” said Méheust—no mean achievement, since the CFM56 remains the best-selling commercial turbofan engine of all time. CFM expects to have produced nearly 34,000 CFM56s by the time the production program ends entirely—which probably will be in five years. However, one day the CFM56 will almost certainly cede that honor to the Leap family, given that the CFM56 program is some 46 years old and in its first 11 years of existence the Leap family has garnered orders and commitments for far more than half the number of all CFM56s ever ordered.
The year 2019 has seen CFM56 production continue to slow markedly, with CFM likely to end the year having delivered about 200 CFM56 engines—many of which have been spares for customers heeding CFM’s calls for them to order any further spare engines they require before CFM stops delivering the spares at some point in 2020. The last CFM56-7B for installation on a commercial 737 was delivered in May, and Méheust said CFM will deliver the last CFM56-5B for an A320ceo in May 2020. Production of CFM56s for on-wing installation on new aircraft will only then continue for the 737-800-based military P-8 Poseidon and 737-700-based AEW&C Wedgetail. “Based on current orders,” deliveries of those engines will continue until 2024, he said.
But while CFM has been working its way production-wise through its CFM56 succession planning for several years, this year the CFM56 has still proved able to surprise CFM with its sales persistence. “We thought 2019 was going to see the end of CFM56 spare-engine production, but we received a lot of interest” from customers following CFM’s calls for them to order while they still can, said Méheust. “So now we’re pushing [production of] the last spare engine forward until sometime in 2020. We’re urging customers to place their purchases as fast as possible, as 2020 definitely will [see delivery of] the last spare engines for the CFM56-5B and the CFM56-7B.”