For the engine manufacturing business, 2008 might have been the year when finally the source of the industry's innovative spark turned upside down. A 25-year preoccupation with widebody airliners driving the most significant aerodynamic and efficiency improvements for engines appeared to lift - at least for a year.

With the Boeing 787 slogging through interminable schedule delays and the Airbus A350 XWB at least seven years from service, speculation cooled about a possible all-new engine in the 85,000-95,000lb-thrust (378-420kN) class.

Boeing's proposed 787-10 and rumoured 777-X project have been shelved while the manufacturer addresses more immediate development concerns. As a result, General Electric has no immediate pressure to commit to developing an all-new engine in a thrust class beyond the GEnx family.

Meanwhile, the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB continues to be the only engine powering the A350-1000, despite Airbus's desire to offer at least two engines. GE's position is unchanged since the A350's launch in 2004, as the manufacturer is not eager to introduce an engine in the same market category as the GE90-115B before it can recoup its planned return.

Similar reluctance to launch all-new products appears confined only to the widebody sector, a new market phenomenon. Narrowbodies, dominated by the CFM56 and V2500 powerplants, have relied on steadily improved versions of the same two engine core architectures for nearly four decades. But that drought is almost over.

Neither Airbus nor Boeing has defined replacement plans for the A320 and 737, and no new airframe is expected to appear until at least the last few years of the next decade. But that lack of clarity has not slowed interest from engine makers. At the small end of the market, the Bombardier CSeries and Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet will introduce the Pratt & Whitney GTF geared turbofan after 2013.

Sensing interest in a step-change in fuel efficiency for narrowbody engines, the original equipment manufacturers are targeting 2013-16 for introducing significantly more efficient products. In 2008, the formal launch of CFM International's all-new Leap-X advanced turbofan, the first flight of the P&W GTF demonstrator engine and the ceaseless speculation about potential new breakthroughs, such as open rotor systems, fuelled a basic shift in the philosophy on engine industry innovation.

With the start in December of fan module testing for the Leap-X concept (pictured), CFM finally moved its three-year next-generation concept from a technology study to a development programme using real hardware.

In effect, Leap-X finally consolidates the major advances - including ultra-high-pressure compressor ratios and composite fan materials - pioneered by the GE90 and GEnx designs in the joint venture's first all-new engine architecture since 1971.

The first demonstrator engine with a single-stage turbine architecture will enter tests in June. But CFM has revealed exclusively to Flightglobal that a more fuel-efficient, second-stage architecture is being considered for the Leap-X. That concept will be tested with a second demonstrator engine in 2010.

P&W's alternative next-generation engine, the GTF, proved its viability on flights on a Boeing 747SP testbed and, more recently, on an Airbus A340. But mystery surrounds R-R, which has not yet finalised its strategy for addressing the narrowbody sector.

The business jet market has seen a spurt of interest. Five new engine candidates compete in the midsize jet sector and only the Snecma Silvercrest engine lacks a launch platform, although opportunities remain.

Source: Flight International