FARNBOROUGH: CFM wins landmark order in A320neo engine battle

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CFM International has won a potentially pivotal order in the engine war over the Airbus A320neo, with American Airlinesselection of the Leap-1A engine.

The order, which has a list-price value of $2.6 billion, covers American’s entire acquisition of 100 A320neo-family aircraft, CFM says.

It also not only gives CFM a slight lead in the A320neo engine orders race, but potentially opens an opportunity for the Franco-US joint venture to take a commanding lead over the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G.

“We are thrilled that American Airlines has again chosen to make CFM an integral part of its long-term fleet strategy and look forward to continuing our very successful relationship with this airline,” says CFM president Jean-Paul Ebanga.

American Airlines has already selected the Leap-1A’s sister engine to power the Boeing 737 Max. However, US Airwaysmerger with the former AMR brought an International Aero Engines V2500 legacy operator into the combined entity. That arrangement – along with a three-digit orderbook, which includes 100 firm and 280 options – made the new American management among the most significant potential decisions in the A320neo orders race.

“With its improved fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance requirements and lower operating costs, the Leap engine is a great fit for our A320neo aircraft,” says American chief operating officer Rober Isom.

American’s decision leaves 973 aircraft in the A320neo order backlog without a selected engine. Of those orders, 274 aircraft are destined for two airlines – EasyJet and LionAir – with current A320s powered by the CFM engines. That gives CFM an incumbent position, although P&W could still win the orders.

The A320neo orders race has so far been characterised by a cautious parity between two drastically different engine architectures. CFM has designed the Leap with two high-pressure turbine stages, compared with one for the CFM56. The Leap engine family also features new materials, such as ceramic matrix composite fan blades and a five-stage blisk in the compressor. In all other ways, however, the Leap adheres to the conventional two-spool layout for a high-bypass turbofan engine. By contrast, P&W introduces a fan-drive gear system in the low-pressure section of the PW1100G, seeking to improve efficiency by optimising the rotational speeds of the front fan and low-pressure turbine.

Both engines remain in development, with the PW1100G scheduled to enter service with the A320neo in 2015. The debut of the Leap-1A will follow several months later in 2016.

With only development data available to scrutinise the two engines, airlines and lessors buying the A320neo have not given the advantage to either programme.