IN FOCUS: How IAE is planning for life after 30

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Joint ventures, says Jon Beatty, president and chief executive at engine maker International Aero Engines, "don't normally have a very long shelf-life, particularly those in aerospace".

IAE, however, celebrated its 30th birthday on 11 March.

Initially conceived as a five-way partnership consisting of Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, MTU Aero Engines, Japanese Aero Engine Company and what was then Fiat Avio, its V2500 engine was named to reflect both the thrust class of the powerplant and the number of companies behind it.

Although the partnership has now dwindled to three following the exit of R-R in 2012, Beatty is confident it will continue to endure until the scheduled end of the collaboration in 2045.

However, whatever the strengths of IAE, perhaps the biggest limiting factor to its future is the fact that its sole product - the V2500 - has a distinctly finite lifespan. Although the engine powers those Boeing MD-90s still in service and from 2016 it will find a place on Embraer's KC-390 military tanker/transport, its biggest programme has always been the Airbus A320 family.

And with the re-engined A320neo waiting in the wings, production of the V2500-A5 for the baseline A320 could end in 2018. As that cut-off date approaches, Airbus will determine how quickly the programme ramps down, says Beatty and it is working with the airframer to come up with an "integrated plan" for the switch over.

Nonetheless, IAE plans to deliver around 500 V2500s this year, with a similar build rate proposed for the two subsequent years as it works through its backlog of a little over 1,500 engines.

Slots for the A320ceo are running out, with production solid for 2013 and 2014 and just a handful of gaps remain for the following two years, says Beatty. A total of 732 engines remain up for grabs, from ordered A320s with no engines selection made, according to figures from Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets database. Combined with the as-yet unsold airframes, Beatty believes IAE can secure orders for a further 700 V2500s, or around half the available total.

"We are more than confident that we will continue to get above 50% market share on the [A320]ceos that Airbus continues to build."

Although CFM International's rival CFM56 maintains an overall lead against the V2500 on in-service A320-family aircraft, with a market share of 57.3%, the two manufacturers have been neck and neck over recent years, with IAE making up some lost ground. Based on 2012 delivery figures, IAE took a 47% market share, delivering 422 engines .

And on the larger A321, the 33,000lb-thrust (147kN) V2533 has comfortably outsold the equivalent CFM56, netting a 60% market share of the in-service A321 fleet.

Beatty attributes this to better fuel burn and on-wing time compared with its rival. He adds: "As the whole industry upscales, it plays into our strategy. We like that market," he says.

Upgrades are also in the offing, says Beatty, their regular arrival a feature of both the company's "philosophy of continuous improvement" and the fact it has three separate companies and their research to tap into. "You owe it to your customers - you always have to look for ways to improve your product," adds Beatty.

Its SelectTwo enhancement should make its operational debut in the first quarter of 2014. This promises a fuel burn reduction of 0.5% over the SelectOne model introduced in 2008 and longer time on- wing between overhauls.

The SelectTwo package has mostly been led by software tweaks, including optimised performance for the climb and descent portions of the flight, whereas its predecessor was more hardware-based, featuring new turbine blades and a re-designed high-pressure turbine.

Meanwhile, IAE continues to work with its airline customers to define the requirements for the SelectThree improvements scheduled for service entry around mid-2015.

"We have some concepts on the board now, but we are still in the definition phase," says Beatty. While revealing little in the way of specifics, he says that while the SelectOne and Two enhancement packages were focused mainly on cutting fuel burn, the third iteration is likely to be centred on reducing overall maintenance costs.

It has also made strides with its V Services maintenance programme, securing around 60% of the installed base of engines, a figure that rises to around 80% for new business, it says. A network of IAE engine shops provides global coverage and the range of services offered under the V Services banner, such as fleet hour agreements and fixed price maintenance agreements.

"It's a trend with a lot of engine companies," says Beatty on the proliferation of such offerings. "As more airlines are focussed on running the [core] business and less on the aftermarket piece, the only ones left doing their maintenance in-house are the legacy carriers who are burdened with pretty large maintenance facilities that they need to keep busy.

"The newer entrants focus on running the airline - that's why they are the most profitable. We would say who better to service your product than the manufacturer?"

Although it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the future is less clear-cut. It forecasts the KC-390 programme will produce around 20 aircraft per year over a 20-year period, but as volume production for the A320ceo ends, IAE will move into the sustainment phase unless it can secure a new role.

However, talks on that very topic are already under way. Beatty says the IAE shareholders have begun discussions around the transition to the next generation of Airbus narrowbodies. It could see IAE eventually market the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G geared turbofan for the A320neo.

MTU and JAEC already have a workshare on the PW1100G, which has seen a subtle change in its name since the programme began, gaining the suffix -JM in 2011 to denote the involvement of the two companies.

The division of responsibility on the powerplant roughly corresponds to the shareholding the partners have in IAE, says Beatty.

IAE believes "there are opportunities for a unified and coordinated approach to the market for V2500 and PW1100G-JM engines".

"From my perspective it's just painfully obvious, but conversations have been going on since Pratt & Whitney launched the programme," says Beatty. "It is driven by the best interests of our customers."

Beatty hopes to take a decision on the consortium's next move by the third quarter. If it gets the go-ahead, it could breathe new life into the business.