GE reluctant to launch new engine for A380, A330

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After taking on a series of major engine development programmes, General Electric is adopting a more cautious approach as it evaluates proposals to re-engine the Airbus A330 and A380 and replace the Boeing 757.

In a 26 March interview, GE Aviation president and chief executive David Joyce came close to ruling out launching a new clean-sheet engine programme, while also striking a newly cautious tone on the prospects for incorporating fuel-saving ceramic matrix composites in a critical component for the GE9X engine selected to power the Boeing 777X.

“A whole new engine is a tough ‘put’ on an A380 or an A330neo. I’m just being blunt about it,” says Joyce, speaking on the sidelines of a CFM Leap engine factory announcement in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“Others may have a different idea, but, for us, I would be really remiss if I led you to believe that we would be interested in that,” Joyce says.

In November, the Engine Alliance, including GE and Pratt & Whitney, indicated a willingness to consider major improvements to the GP7200 engine, including an all-new design. But Joyce says that GE is now focusing on improving the existing engine.

“I think we’re looking for what can we do to take some of the technology that we'e working on and bring them into that,” Joyce says.

In comparison, Rolls-Royce has unveiled two new clean-sheet engine development programmes with the Advance and the Ultra Fan. Aerospace executives are sometimes known to lay smokescreens to disguise strategic moves to competitors, but Joyce’s intent seemed clear in his statements.

Joyce described the effort required to bring an already bulging portfolio of development programmes into production over the next six years, including the CFM Leap engine, the Passport 20 engine for the Bombardier Global 7000/8000 and the GE9X.

These programmes are enough to allow GE to invest in the next generation of propulsion technologies, without having to invest in a new project, Joyce says.

“I’ve got more than enough platforms to create the next generation of technologies,” he says.

Among the technologies in development today are CMC materials. The CFM Leap features the lighter, stronger alternative to exotic metal alloys in the stage 1 turbine shrouds.

GE has proposed to expand the usage of CMC materials greatly on the GE9X, including replacing nickel alloy for the stage 1 blades of the high pressure turbine.

Last June, Joyce personally showed off a CMC-derived stage 1 turbine blade for the GE9X, explaining how it could account for as much as 15% of the promised fuel savings for the GE9X.

But Joyce adopted a more cautious tone nine months later, noting that the technology must also pass a high bar for manufacturing readiness.

“If we don’t [adopt CMC turbine blades] it can always become an upgrade on the engine at some time in the future,” Joyce says.