Lessors analyse powerplant choices on re-engined narrowbodies

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It will take several years to know which engine choice on the re-engined Airbus A320neo narrowbody will have the better performance, lessors agreed at the ISTAT Europe finance event held this week in Barcelona.

However, Air Lease Corporation chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy told delegates that he sees some parallels between the latest model International Aero Engines V2500 and newest CFM International CFM56 model that power the Airbus A320.

Operational data from the V2500 shows it to be 1-2% better than the CFM56 in fuel burn, whereas the CFM engine has a better time on wing, he said, and a similar pattern could emerge for the next generation engines.

Comparing performance promises from the manufacturers on the new generation engines, "from everything we can tell the GTF [from Pratt & Whitney] will have lower fuel consumption while we will have to see if the [CFM] LEAP X can maintain the maintenance cost advantage", said Udvar-Hazy.

"In essence we're all gamblers on what the true maintenance cost will be," said Udvar-Hazy. Only after some five to eight years in service will the actual picture emerge, he said.

Each manufacturer has attacked the issue of gaining double-digit performance improvement in a different way, said Jeffrey Knittel, president transportation finance at CIT, which has ordered both engine types for its A320neos.

"The GTF is a change in architecture," said Knittel, using advanced gearbox technology. On the other hand, CFM has taken a "more traditional approach but applied new materials", he said.

Although lessors spoke out 12 months ago at the 2010 ISTAT Europe event for Airbus and Boeing to go for an all-new narrowbody rather than re-engined models, now the latter are launched lessors are scrambling to get early delivery positions.

"You want to be on the front end of the order cycle," said Peter Barrett, chief executive of RBS Aviation Capital.

An explanation for the manufacturers going for the re-engining option comes from their customers with the rising price of jet fuel spurring airlines to desire fuel savings in the shorter-term.

"Airlines want a fuel hedge in a lot of ways, and the optimal way to hedge your fuel cost is to operate an airplane that is more fuel efficient," said Knittel of CIT. "This is what the [A320] neo and [Boeing 737] Max bring you."

"Carriers saw that the benefit of getting engine technology sooner far outweighed the case for waiting," said Knittel.