Key issues emerge in Chinese local assembly of Leap engine

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The origin of the production certificate for a Chinese-built Leap-1C engine has emerged as a key issue in negotiations between Comac and CFM International over opening a factory in China to support of the C919 narrowbody, according to CFM officials.

The joint venture between General Electric and Snecma signed a memorandum of understanding last June with AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engines (ACAE) to study local assembly of the Leap-1C in China.

But the negotiations have dragged on for more than 13 months. For CFM, the key question remains whether a business case exists to assemble the Leap-1C in China. ACAE is developing a competing engine to power the C919 called the CJ-1000A ChangJiang.

But a secondary issue also has come up in their discussions with Chinese industry and government officials.

A local factory would require CFM to receive local certification from Chinese authorities. Alternatively, CFM could assemble the Leap-1C engines in China under production processes certificated by Snecma in France or by GE in the USA, CFM says.

The latter approach, however, comes with the risk that any quality or safety issues that arise on Chinese-built engines could affect all engines built using the same certificate in either France or the USA.

CFM notes that it already sources major components in China, and the joint venture is confident in the ability of Chinese industry to assemble engines of high quality. But CFM officials are also balancing the risk of any disruptions across their entire installed base of Leap engines.The Leap-1C shares a common design with the Leap-1A, which powers the Airbus A320neo family.

CFM could still choose to build Leap-1Cs in China under a Chinese production certification, but this approach opens the risk of sharing the joint venture's intellectual property with the Chinese government.