ANDREW DOYLE / SINGAPORE AND GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
But engine manufacturer shelves project to produce more powerful variant of the engine for the 777 "lite"
General Electric is studying offering the GE90 as an engine option for the Boeing 777-300, building on its growing 777 market penetration with the -94B version. In a related move, the US engine-maker says it has shelved a study into a derated version of its 115,000lb- thrust (510kN) variant of the powerplant for a possible 777 "lite" airliner.
The powerplant under study for the -300 variant will be a 90,000 to 95,000lb-thrust offering based on the 777-200ER's -94B, rather than a derated version of the much more powerful 115,000lb-thrust GE90-115B under development for the 777-200LR/300ER.
GE adds studies for "a bit more thrust" will be undertaken if it is required to match the 98,000lb offered by its competitors.
Until now, only Pratt & Whitney- and Rolls-Royce-powered versions of the 777-300 have been certificated. "We are starting to study a potential GE-powered 777-300 because that represents a product gap," says the company.
GE says the study is in response to requests from existing 777 customers, but denies that it was sparked specifically by a request from Continental Airlines.
GE confirms it studied a derated -115B, but this was not pursued following previously undisclosed discussions with Cathay Pacific over a possible "777X lite" which would have involved certificating the GE90-powered 777-300ER at a lower operating weight. The talks were not supported by Boeing and abandoned when Cathay delayed plans to order more widebodies.
GE90 programme sources say the company wants to have a 98,000lb-thrust engine available to counter offerings from P&W and R-R, although all three are excluded from deploying those engines on 777s with maximum take-off weights of between 299,600kg (660,000lb) - at which the 777-200ER and -300 are limited - and 317,800kg, from where the 777-200LR and -300ER are offered under the 1999 exclusive agreement between Boeing and GE.
This gap has become a sensitive issue because P&W and R-R want to offer their existing customers the option of operating 777s at higher gross weights without switching to the GE90. A key test of Boeing's and GE's strategy is looming as major R-R customer Singapore Airlines begins to evaluate its requirements for higher-weight 777s.