UK budget carrier EasyJet is maintaining pressure on manufacturers to achieve a 2015 target for introducing new open rotor engines to power next generation narrowbody aircraft, even as a 2018 entry-into-service (EIS) for the technology is now being discussed by powerplant makers.
One of the issues that may be driving the current timeline discussion for new-technology aircraft, says EasyJet strategic planning manager Hal Calamvokis, is that airframers would prefer to have two engine suppliers from the beginning for risk management purposes.
The question remains, he says: “Do we have to wait for the laggard manufacturer whereas the first manufacturer might be ready by 2015 and the second by 2018?”
Barring this consideration, however, EasyJet believes it has not been told a compelling reason why the date has to slip to the latter part of the next decade. “We would expect to see renewed efforts to achieve the 2015 target,” says Calamvokis, noting that “a large chunk”, as much as 30%, of environmental improvements of the new narrowbodies will be driven by the engine.
“It very may well be that somebody, while flight testing prototypes…comes up with a reason why it [open rotor technology] can’t work, but starting here and working forwards, it really should be the plan A.”
Geared turbofan technology, meanwhile, “seems to be the most appropriate technology for the aircraft size below the one we’re looking at,” says EasyJet’s Calamvokis.
On the US front American Airlines executive VP of operations Bob Reding last week told ATI that open rotor technology “seems to be really a paradigm shift in fuel consumption”. He notes, however, that questions still need to be answered concerning the maximum cruise speed that aircraft can fly with open rotors, the noise characteristics and certification requirements.
IATA is hoping to get some of these questions answered for its member airlines. The organization in June will provide airlines with a compact overview of the status of research and development (R&D) efforts and what will be available and when in terms of new engine technology. Then it will “try to align the airlines” behind a consolidated viewpoint, says IATA technical and operations specialist Juergen Haacker.
He adds: “All the analysts say, which I can agree to as well, that this  is a timeframe where the next generation short- and medium-range aircraft has to appear… This is the timeframe. The answer is very clear. This cannot be missed. There is a window of opportunity. We have to make the technology step.”
Considering how different a new engine architecture will be to the current turbofan, it would logically lead to a new airframe schema, according to EasyJet.
Last year the airline revealed a concept aircraft design that featured two rear-mounted open rotor engines, and promised as much as 50% improvements in fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions.
The future aircraft could look very different from EasyJet’s concept, says Calamvokis. However, it is “our first idea” and is expected to help drive innovation by challenging engineers to “get out of this comfort zone” that in the last 50 years has made it easy to predict what the next transport aircraft would look and act like in terms of performance.
The carrier would prefer the potential benefit that an open rotor would bring even if the performance guarantee in the beginning might not be as tight, notes the EasyJet executive.
EasyJet operates a mixed fleet of current-generation Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700s and has over 200 Airbus A319s on order and option.
Its simplified business model that calls for a young fleet that flies short-haul routes, coupled with the fact that it is based in the UK where aviation and the environment is big news, has prompted EasyJet to remain on the forefront of the narrowbody replacement effort.
“If you think about it, we started thinking about it when oil was $40 a barrel,” says Calamvokis.
Source: flightglobal.com's sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence news