Qatar’s Al Baker Challenges GE on Future Engine

 - April 7, 2021, 9:25 AM
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker (Photo: David McIntosh)

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has challenged GE Aviation to accelerate efforts on a new engine that would address carbon-neutrality goals set by the European Union and other governments. Delivering opening remarks during a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce online panel discussion dedicated to Qatar-U.S. business relations, Al Baker called for a concerted effort by airlines and their suppliers to ensure the industry meets 2050 targets for net-zero carbon emissions.

“We always are looking for improvements, and I would also recommend GE get into a future-technology engine sooner [rather] than later, because we all through IATA have committed [to] carbon-neutral growth in 2050,” said Al Baker. “When you look at how long things take to develop, 2050 is not very far away. So I recommend that…GE takes this message really seriously. People tend to blame airlines for emissions, but we depend on aircraft manufacturers and engine manufacturers and fuel producers to deliver the technology to us so that we then can invest in those new technologies and fly our airplanes more efficiently and with the least effect on our environment.”

GE and other engine makers have emphasized an incremental approach beginning with improvements to existing engines combined with the use of sustainable aviation fuels, for example. Speaking during a recent investors’ presentation, GE Aviation president and CEO John Slattery outlined the company’s strategy for meeting sustainability goals.

“GE has been heavily involved in SAF testing for many years, including powering the industry's very first 100 percent SAF flight in 2018,” said Slattery. “By the way, that was on a commercial widebody aircraft.” The company plans to spend $1.8 billion on research and development efforts this year, a level consistent with last year’s spending, he added.

“Partnering with GE Research, we plan to also demonstrate our hybrid electric capabilities on a regional airliner by the middle of this decade,” Slattery noted. “And as for the next narrowbody aircraft, we will develop and mature technologies to deliver greater than 20 percent fuel efficiency compared to the [CFM] Leap. And looking even farther into the future, where we're positioning ourselves to lead the technology revolution, with innovations like liquid hydrogen where we can draw today from our experiences and the learnings from our colleagues over at GE Power.”

Al Baker, who also said Boeing airplanes account for 51 percent of Qatar Airways’ fleet, added that he would accept delivery of GE9X-powered 777Xs “as soon as it’s ready.” Boeing has notified the airline to expect a delay in first delivery until 2023, at which point Qatar now plans to place three of the airplanes into service. Al Baker also acknowledged an interest in further hot-weather performance on the engines.

For its part, GE noted that it introduced in the 9X an enhanced thermal barrier coating on the turbine blades for improved durability in hot environments and certification for full-rated takeoff in hot weather. The 9X team continues dust testing on the engine to validate various improvements designed into the engine to reduce the effect of sand and dust blocking cooling passages. Further advances under study include new technologies to manage under-cowl temperatures that can peak after engine shutdown in hot environments.