FARNBOROUGH: After giant Leap, CFM looks to make small steps

-
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight Daily News
Subscribe today »

After hauling in orders worth $11 billion at last year's air show in Paris, CFM International prefers to make a different sort of statement at Farnborough this year.

"We are not out there to generate breaking news because of the air show," says Jean-Paul Ebanga, president of the General Electric-Snecma joint venture which produces the CFM56 and Leap-series turbofans.

jean-paul ebanga billypix

 Billypix

Last year's record haul at the Paris air show was a convenient anomaly to CFM's traditional air show marketing strategy. Leading up to the 2011 event, the rival Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan had captured most of the narrowbody market share. There was talk that perhaps airlines were not as enthusiastic about CFM's ungeared alternative - the Leap engine selected to power the Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 Max and Comac C919. CFM executives had taken notice of the chatter, and wanted an opportunity to set the record straight.

"In the view of certain people, because we weren't making a lot of buzz at the beginning of the Leap programme, some people thought we were [losing ground], which was not the case," Ebanga says. "What we were doing was not reflected in the actual numbers [of orders], and at the [Paris] air show we just brought the situation back on track."

The plan for the Farnborough air show is not to flood the newswire with Leap engine order announcements, but instead show that the programme is continuing to make progress still years ahead of the scheduled first flight for the A320neo.

Ebanga points to a recent order announcement - a $2 billion deal on 19 April for the Leap-1A by Qantas subsidiary JetStar - as a measure of CFM's less overt marketing strategy at Farnborough.

"We could have held this announcement until the Farnborough air show," Ebanga says. "Because we truly believe that now we are back to the normal way of doing business, we don't want to use the show just to make the news."

Indeed, a major theme for CFM at Farnborough has nothing to do with future Leap deliveries at all. Instead, the US-French partnership will emphasise a somewhat rare milestone for any operational turbofan programme - a 30th anniversary.

In 1982, Delta accepted delivery of the first McDonnell Douglas DC-8 re-engined with the original CFM56. CFM had struggled for nearly a decade to attract interest in its high-bypass turbofan technology for narrowbody applications. Along with a similar re-engining order by the US Air Force for a portion of its Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker fleet, Delta's order salvaged the CFM programme and revolutionised the single-aisle airliner sector.

"It's not quite common in our industry to celebrate a 30th anniversary of a product line which is still at the edge of the market," Ebanga says. "The celebration is not just about us, but it's about our entire industry."

Last year, CFM produced the latest - and possibly the last - product improvement package (PIP) upgrade for the CFM56-5B, the engine that powers the Airbus A320 family.

As the Leap engine and 737 Max and A320neo enter service within five years, there may never be another major block change released again for the CFM56 series. However, Ebanga emphasises that the technology in the older engine series will continue to be improved.

"The CFM56 will still be produced for the next couple of years and, because we have this huge fleet of CFM56 engines, we need to make sure our customer will operate this fleet in the most efficient way," Ebanga says. "To rephrase myself, the PIP project will not be the last initiative CFM is taking to continue to improve its engines."

Meanwhile, CFM is working on getting the next-generation engine ready to enter service in 2016, which is eight years after the joint venture launched the programme. CFM has already completed testing on the first and second "ecore" demonstrator engines, which confirmed performance goals. CFM is now building the ecore3 demonstrator engine while finalising the design of the Leap-1A.

"We are doing some testing with the new 3D [resin transfer moulding-based fan blade] technologies. We are doing some testing at the low-pressure turbine level. We have a series of testing programmes to make sure all of the commitments we are making in the real engine will be made," Ebanga says.

Nudging these technologies from development and into service is the first challenge. The next problem will arrive after entry into service, when the engine makers will be expected to ramp up very quickly to meet historically rising production rates.

cfm leap x engine tone eye gallery on airspace

 Tone Eye gallery on AirSpace

Ahead of the Farnborough air show, the A320neo and the 737 Max have already accumulated more than 1,800 orders combined. The airframers plan to build more than 1,000 aircraft between them each year by 2014, and are studying even further increases.

In preparation, CFM is using Lean techniques to streamline production and is working with suppliers to make sure they are ready to support the rate increases. Ebanga also notes that the engine makers have managed to keep up with past rate increases.

"If you remember, at some point in the mid-1990s we were producing just 400 engines per year," Ebanga says. "In 2012, we are going to produce 1,440 engines in a single year. We have multiplied by more than three the number of engines we are producing in a single year in around 15 years."

Another ingredient in CFM's ramp-up plans is the strong relationship between the joint venture's equal partners. Joint ventures have a mixed track record in the aerospace industry. Some have failed amid discord and legal challenges between the major partners. CFM has been among the few that have not only prospered, but also seem to produce a better result than either company could achieve working alone.

To illustrate the joint venture's harmony, Ebanga cites the decision to launch the Leap programme in 2008.

"There was absolutely no argument between the two companies about the fact that we need to put on the marketplace the new engine of reference for this industry," he says. "It was more about what you can bring to the table and what I can bring to the table.

"I think one of the key ingredients of the success of CFM is the ability of the two companies to recognise CFM is more than the sum of the two parent companies. By sharing and allocating resources - both human and financial - they are building their own success. Instead of being a reason for argument, CFM is a reason for growth."