Less mysticism; manufacturers deliver a reality check to airlines

There isn’t much to celebrate here at Mystic Dunes in Celebration, Florida – one of the overflow hotels for the ISTAT conference. Staying here is like being handed a big, hard buttery crab for dinner only to find the guts of the thing is really green-yellow and rather sickly. But I can’t fault the conference. It’s downright riveting, at least from my front-row perch.

A number of moments are blog-worthy, and I hope to dedicate time to thrashing it out this week. But for now, I think it’s definitely worth noting that Airbus and GE have made clear that expectations for new-technology aircraft before the latter part of the next decade is bordering on downright unreasonable.

There is an incredible amount of industry pressure in terms of addressing fuel burn says GE Aviation president and CEO Scott Donnelly. To make this happen, he says, is going to require a “massive investment”.

GE will spend billions (about $2 billion to be exact) to get the kind of efficiency needed for next generation narrowbodies. To meet expectations, proper technology won’t be mature “until 2015 to 2018″.

Open rotor engines might very well be the answer but it requires a heck of a lot more study. Airbus VP of strategic marketing Philippe Jarry said clearly and simply: “We don’t know what engine architecture will power the next generation airlines. We need to test them … Even if we go to radical engine architecture change, it would not change [the] aircraft shape.

This made me wonder – what does Jarry think about the EasyJet concept aircraft revealed last year (and should we expect something resembling that design?). Well probably not exactly, but EasyJet -based in the UK – has been understandably vocal. EasyJet has also said it’s design is a starting point for innovation.

Speaking one-on-one with me after his speech, Jarry said: “We cannot install the big propellers under a wing, so [the engine architecture] will drive our configuration as well. So that is why we really want to be on top of it. We want to stimulate them [engine makers]. If I put an airplane in service 30 years after the A320, I should get 30% [improvement in efficiency]!”

But airlines cannot simply make demands for narrowbody replacement in the next few years. “Everybody has to play their role. It is an industry challenge. It will be an industry issue, an industry effort, and an industry result.”

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2 Responses to Less mysticism; manufacturers deliver a reality check to airlines

  1. Jon Dudeck March 11, 2008 at 4:56 am #

    The EasyJet proposal does not look certifiable. A blade failure on that iteration has the potential to destroy both the other powerplant and the flight control surfaces in the empennage.

    For all practical purposes the open rotor is a propeller, with all the associated failure modes.

    Any engineers out there? Will an open rotor be rated by thrust or horsepower?

  2. Nicolas March 11, 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    In the late ’80, everything seemed set so that UDF or GTF would be ready to enter service around 2000, but, then, airlines did not want them, because oil was cheap. Now that oil is expensive, they want it yesterday…