PARIS AIR SHOW: Dassault reopens engine competition for Falcon SMS

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Dassault has gone back to the drawing board with plans for its super mid-size Falcon business jet, codenamed the SMS.

The French airframer has had second thoughts on the decision two years ago that named Rolls-Royce as the developer of a new class of engine to power the replacement for the Falcon 50.

The Rolls-Royce contract was headline news at the last Paris air show, and was seen as a major breakthrough in a fierce competition that had pitted five major engine players against each other to produce a 10,000lb thrust (45kN) engine. At the time R-R said the contract meant a chance to renew its engine business in this segment with a new powerplant design, and the Dassault programme would spawn a family of new turbofans.

But at a pre-show conference at the company's St Cloud headquarters, Dassault president Charles Edelstenne said the current global financial crisis has given the European manufacturer the opportunity to work more closely with customers. Talking about the SMS specifically he says Dassault is "taking the time to run a fine toothcomb through every detail to make sure we reach our technical and financial goals once the crisis is over".

Asked whether this meant the engine requirement and contract was also under review Edelstenne replied: "Of course. It is still open and definitely not set in stone. We could not work under such a constraint. If you have constraints you limit possibilities. Innovation and investment are more than ever the watchwords."

This decision will be good news for the other engine-makers. In the original competition, R-R beat General Electric, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney and Snecma. The latter was hoping the Dassault project could turn into the launch customer for its Silvercrest family, but officials for the French engine-maker conceded at the time that the competition came too soon.

That hope has now returned. Before the show, Snecma chief executive Philippe Petitcolin was asked about an application for Silvercrest. He said: "We have one active discussion today. We have some confidentiality agreements signed with our customer, and unless the customer wants to discuss it, I am not allowed to talk about it. I can just tell you that yes, we have one active prospect today." Would there be an announcement during the show? "I don't think so. I'm not expecting any official information until after the vacation," Petitcolin said.

R-R is stoic about the SMS contract. Mark King, president of the UK company's civil aerospace division, says: "It's really still in the study stage with Dassault. The RB282 we've positioned as a new two-shaft family with one very clear potential application in the Dassault Falcon, and a number of other possibilities. Some of the aircraft manufacturers are looking at the timing and positioning of their aircraft, so it's still quite a fluid market.

"We were selected for the SMS and we've been in a study period with Dassault for some considerable time now, as we try and optimise the aircraft. I think all the aircraft manufacturers are looking at how much they can afford to spend, so there are still a lot of different ways that market could develop.

"Certainly our plan is to launch at the appropriate time a new family of engines into the market to address probably anything from 10,000lb right up to the top end. There's no doubt it is fluid at the moment in terms of exactly what the manufacturers want, and that's affecting how we plan this family."