CFM International's production of Leap powerplants is back on schedule, with the company having overcome bottlenecks that had hindered its ability to fully meet a planned ramp-up, says the engine maker's chief executive Gael Meheust.
Though industry-wide supply of major metallic components produced through casting and forging remains tight, CFM is now delivering Leaps on time – an achievement made easier by Boeing's reduced production of the still-grounded 737 Max.
"We have been able to catch up," Meheust says at the start of the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Brasilia. "We are back on schedule."
CFM expects to deliver 1,800 Leap powerplants in 2019 and some 2,000 by 2020, which will be its peak production rate – the "top of the hill", Meheust says. It makes the A320neo-family's Leap-1A and the 737 Max's Leap-1B.
Production of new-generation engines by CFM and competitor Pratt & Whitney has been hamstrung by bottlenecks in "casting and forging" – the process suppliers use to make major metallic engine components.
Boosting casting and forging supply is not as straightforward as might be thought – it requires significant investment, and suppliers must weigh that investment against expectations for how long casting and forging demand will likely remain at elevated levels, says Meheust.
"There are a limited number of suppliers," he says, adding that CFM has at least two suppliers for critical components. "We have to be mindful of this particularity of the supply chain."
Until recently, CFM's Leap production had been several weeks behind schedule. But after the Max grounding, Boeing reduced Max production from 52 to 42 aircraft monthly, relieving pressure on CFM and other suppliers.
CFM has performed "preservation" work on the grounded Leap-1Bs. That work ensures the engines suffer no ill effects from prolonged storage and are ready to fly when regulators sign certification papers, states Meheust. Boeing says it still expects the Max will be flying by year-end. It plans to bring production back to pre-grounding levels and hit a 57-aircraft monthly rate by the end of 2020.
"We at CFM continue to believe that Max will fly soon," he says. "We have a taskforce and dedicated team to support return to service."
Jointly owned by Safran Aircraft Engines and GE Aviation, CFM has been battling in Latin America against Pratt & Whitney, which supplies the PW1100G as a power option for the A320neo family. CFM's Leap-1B is the 737 Max's only available engine.
CFM has sold 1,100 Leap engines to Latin American carriers, among them the region's top airline players.
Meheust stresses CFM also has big plans to increase its aftermarket presence, thanks largely to the success of the CFM56 turbofan, some 38,000 of which will be in service by 2025. That engine powers 737NGs and first-generation A320s.
He insists the Max grounding has not negatively impacted CFM's service revenue projections, noting the situation has actually increased demand for CFM56-powered aircraft.