Rolls-Royce settles into a launch groove for A380

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Rolls-Royce has found itself at the forefront for the introductions of three new widebody airliners so far this decade. As well as being the lead supplier on the Airbus A380, R-R engines power the A340-600 which made its debut in 2002, and next year the UK company's engines will be on the first Boeing 787s to be delivered.

Like the A380 itself, the service-readiness of R-R's Trent 900 powerplant has benefited from the high number of hours and cycles accumulated by the A380 test fleet due to the production delay.

The Trent 900 enters service with a thrust rating of 70,000lb (312kN), although it is certificated to up to 80,000lb. With the engine powering four of the five test aircraft - including A380 number one, which flew in April 2005 - Chris Cholerton, director Airbus production programmes at R-R, says that the Trent 900 has accumulated two and half years of flight experience.

"The delay has given us the opportunity to get an enhanced level of maturity. The engine is the most mature Trent ever at entry into service," he says.

The Trent 900 has accumulated 14,000 engine flying hours and over 37,000 engine cycles - the latter comprising flight and bench testing. "Throughout all the route-proving we've had no significant engine issues," says Cholerton.

Three engines are at a very high cyclic life having accumulated around 2,500-3,000 cycles - the equivalent of five years of service. "We've been able to strip them down and inspect them, and we were very pleased with their condition," says Cholerton.

The Trent 900's specific fuel consumption is better than specification and R-R has identified potential for future improvement. "These improvements will be phased - some things we can do in the relatively short term and some will be a lot longer term," says Cholerton.

At the time of Airbus's announcement of the A380 delay, R-R had built 27 engines, and it has used the intervening period to upgrade these early units to the latest standard before delivery. Much of this upgrade work has been undertaken by Singapore Aero Engine Services (SAESL) in Singapore. This joint venture between R-R (30%), Hong Kong Aero Engine Services (20%) and SIA Engineering (50%) will be a prime overhaul base for the Trent 900.

"This allowed SAESL to get valuable early experience with that engine," says Cholerton. "SAESL has gained a level of experience in Trent 900 overhaul that would normally take several years."

R-R has been able to make use of the additional flight trials undertaken by Airbus this year to test the engine maintenance and support activities on wing as part of its service-readiness effort. These included engine removal and installation, engine washing, borescope inspections and health monitoring.

"We've undertaken a couple of maintainability demonstrations with customers - one in Singapore and one on-wing in Toulouse in conjunction with Airbus and nacelle supplier Aircelle," says Cholerton. "We took them through many of the key regular engine maintenance activities and we had great feedback from this, particularly on the accessibility and speed of removal of units."

From an operator's readiness perspective, R-R has been working in collaboration with SIA's technical services, fleet planning and line maintenance teams for several years.

A spares package of the Trent 900's key line-replaceable units have been placed in Singapore and Sydney, and two engines have been positioned in Singapore with another available in Sydney. "Eventually we'll have an engine in every port of A380 operation," says Cholerton.

Should an engine be needed to be repositioned quickly, the Trent has one advantage over its rival, the Engine Alliance GP7200, as it can be transported complete (but without its nacelle) in a 747 freighter. The rival engine requires the removal of the fan case for transport in a 747F, says R-R.

The Trent 900 will be able to benefit from the support of R-R's operations room at its Derby headquarters, which provides technical and logistical support 24h a day. "We've run various scenarios simulating service support issues involving our operations room, Airbus, SIA and some of our vendors to make sure that everyone is ready," says Cholerton.

The company's field support office in Singapore will be supplemented with specialists from the Trent 900 programme who have been involved in the flight-test and route-proving programmes. "They'll be there for quite a while," says Cholerton.

R-R will also have people in Toulouse who will be part of the Airbus team supporting the early operations.

R-R has a standard policy for all entry-into-service programmes of providing "meet and greets" for at least a year. The plan is to have these teams liaising with every aircraft on arrival and departure at both ends of the flight.

The company is now winding Trent 900 production back up to reach an annual output of over 100, having suspended work last year when the A380 programme delay was announced. "Production restarted in September on a dedicated flow-line in Derby. We'll deliver 10 engines this year, 62 next year and over 100 in 2009," says Cholerton.

The A380's R-R powerplant will be the most mature Trent engine ever at service entry.