MTU Aero Engines chief executive says a possible collaboration with China to develop an all-new aircraft engine to compete with Western designs remains undecided as the partners continue analysing prospects.
"It is still open how this should be taken, whether this should be taken in one step from the beginning," Egon Behle, chief executive of the MTU, says in an interview with Flightglobal.
Behle's company signed an agreement last year with AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine company (ACAE) to investigate developing a new engine called the CJ-1000A Chang Jiang.
The CJ-1000A would be offered as an alternative to the CFM International Leap-1C, which has been selected to power the Comac C919. Comac officials have discussed pushing the CJ-1000A to enter service in 2020.
But the project has not visibly advanced since it was revealed a year ago as a scaled mock-up displayed at an aerospace exhibition in Beijing.
Behle says the partners are still analysing the feasibility of challenging the dominant players in the narrowbody sector -- CFM and Pratt & Whitney. Both competitors are introducing new families of narrowbody engines within the next five years, raising the bar for any new entrants to develop competitive designs.
"We need to define together what is feasible if we take available technologies in China as well as technologies which have yet to be developed," Behle says.
China has fielded a new military jet - the Chengdu J-10 - powered by an indigenous jet engine - the WS-10. But the ability to design and mass produce a new commercial engine remains a missing piece in China's drive for global aerospace leadership.
CFM, meanwhile, is continuing to discuss the possibility of locally assembling the Leap-1C engine in China, but has not yet decided if there is a business case and how to address certification issues.
If the CJ-1000A moves forward on schedule, CFM could face a local competitor on sales of every C919 only four years after the narrowbody enters service in the second quarter of 2016. That question depends on the results of the analysis still underway between MTU and ACAE.
"I am not as far as to say that there will be a breakthrough in the next few years or a new engine consortium will be formed," Behle says. "A new engine consortium may be formed over the next years, but we won't see a really competitive engine quite so soon, from today's point of view."
Michael Gubisch contributed to this article.