Rolls-Royce outlines MRO cost-saving plan for A340 engines

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Rolls-Royce has outlined its plans for reducing Trent 500 maintenance costs as part of Airbus’s strategy to improve the market appeal of the A340-500/600 series.

Airbus hopes to make the out-of-production aircraft more competitive against the Boeing 777 by capitalising on comparatively low lease rates for the four-engined widebody. These plans include reconfiguring cabins to increase capacity and, crucially, cutting the maintenance costs of the Trent 500 powerplants.

Rolls-Royce has cleared up the slightly mixed messages around exactly which engines are being benchmarked for the company’s pledge to match the A340’s powerplant maintenance costs with those of the 777 under the slogan "four engines for the price of two".

Airbus presentation material indicates that Rolls-Royce would support four Trent 500s for the cost of two General Electric GE90-115Bs, which power the 777-300ER. But Rolls-Royce says it is measuring costs against the Trent 800 or GE90-94B engines used on the previous-generation 777-200ER.

The conflicting information resulted from a “misunderstanding”, says Rolls-Royce, which points out that the GE90-115B’s estimated maintenance cost per engine flight hour is around 25% higher than that of the Trent 800 or the GE90-94B. Therefore, if Trent 500 costs are half those of a Trent 800/GE90-94B, the saving over the GE90-115B is even greater than 50%.

The engine maker says that the A340 campaign is aimed at making the type more attractive against the 777 in the second-hand marketplace where aircraft are typically at least 10 years old. This, it says, excludes the popular 777-300ER

Rolls-Royce plans to cut maintenance costs through a number of measures tailored to airlines’ individual circumstances, though the details are still under development. However, utilising a greater number of used spare parts and conducting more repairs to return damaged components to service – instead of installing new material – will be key strategies to achieve the MRO cost reduction.

The manufacturer also intends to offer operators exchange engines to replace powerplants that have reached their end of life.

The engine MRO support initiative is presented by Airbus as a key element of its A340 campaign, and promised improvements to Rolls-Royce's TotalCare aftermarket programme should be well received by those who have previously been critical of how it is structured.

But Rolls-Royce says the revamp will not bring a "huge change" over previous Trent 500 maintenance costs. As engine MRO typically accounts for around 5% of total cash operating costs for long-haul aircraft, the savings from lower maintenance spending will only form part of range of airframe and engine measures, it says.

Rolls-Royce declines to quantify the savings targeted from the new maintenance strategy, but says these should be "slightly higher" than the efficiencies available from reducing fuel burn by using the Trent 500 EP+ engine upgrade package.

This package – which includes aerodynamically improved compressor aerofoils with an elliptically shaped leading-edge profile – cuts fuel consumption by 0.5% and should deliver savings of up to $200,000 per aircraft per year, says Rolls-Royce.

The new initiative will be delivered though the flight hour-based TotalCare programme, but the engine maker is not ruling out also applying it to time-and-materials maintenance arrangements or customers with fixed overhaul costs.