In all the excitement about Steven Udvar-Hazy’s comments about China, less attention was paid to something he said about GE and the A350 XWB. His point was that Airbus really needed to persuade GE to get on board the -1000 version of the aircraft to ensure its competitiveness with the Boeing 787-10.
GE has been reluctant to commit to the -1000 because of its challenge to the 777-200ER/300ER on which it is sole-source engine supplier. But I think this raises a deeper question about the immense power of GE and Rolls-Royce in the market these days, and their resulting responsibilities.At the time, Boeing and GE made themselves pretty unpopular with the airlines when they tied up the sole-source deal. Fortunately, the aircraft, especially the -300ER, turned out to be terrific performers and beautifully aimed at the market.
But they definitely annoyed the Japanese carriers, and I’m pretty sure one result was Rolls’ unexpected win on ANA’s 787s a few years later. (Although there’s history to that.) ANA had become increasingly uncomfortable about its reliance on GE, and the sole-source decision was the last straw.
I know there are other sole-source cases: the A340-600 is Rolls-only, but it’s a true niche aircraft; and the basic A340 itself is CFM-only, but that’s for want of a competitor. And it’s also true that Boeing to some degree will have done the airlines’ negotiating for them – they didn’t want to pay through the nose either.
But this time things are different. Pratt & Whitney’s decline (temporary or not we shall see) has left GE and Rolls with unprecedented power. And I don’t think either of them using that power to cripple an aircraft programme by hamstringing one of its family members is good for the industry.
When Boeing and Airbus made fools of themselves a while back, Flight International very publicly urged them to get their act together. One did, the other only managed it for a while. But our motivation was that their collective failure of leadership was hurting the vast network of suppliers and airlines that depend on the airframers’ world-class leadership for their good health.
When and if the airframers build commercially viable aircraft, it comes with the engine-makers’ territory that they should power them. GE should think hard about this one.