General Electric has become the first engine company to sign a formal agreement with Boeing to offer a high-thrust engine for the airframe company's heavyweight long-range 777-200X and -300X twins. The move comes as Boeing applies continuing pressure on the big-three engine makers to commit to develop the 445kN (100,000lb)-thrust engines needed for the aircraft.

Boeing is believed to have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with GE on 11 March. The agreement, which GE declines to confirm or deny, comes just over two weeks after the Boeing board approved authority to offer the new 777 variants. "We are in serious discussions with Boeing," is all that the engine manufacturer will say. The airframe builder is aggressively pursuing its sales efforts in the run-up to a potential double launch at the Paris air show in June.

The MoU is understood to cover the development outline of a 445kN GE90-100B, for first deliveries from September 2000 onwards, and for a higher-thrust, 456kN, GE90-102B, for deliveries from June 2002. GE's official position remains that "-we're doing development studies, but we haven't launched a 100,000lb-thrust engine".

Boeing also declines to comment on the existence of the MoU, which is a sensitive issue with all parties because of the enormous costs and low returns on the current 777 engines.

The commitment to higher-thrust engines is urgently needed to bolster Boeing's campaigns to launch the ultra-long-range -200X, for which Malaysia Airlines (MAS) signed an MoU on 4 March. MAS plans to order 15 -200Xs, while others to express interest include Emirates Airlines, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines (SIA).

Initial -200X deliveries are aimed for September 2000, the same month for which GE is committed in its MoU with Boeing.

Three of the four potential -200X launch airlines are already Rolls-Royce-powered-777 customers, putting additional pressure on the UK engine maker to sign a similar MoU. Although R-R has so far announced developments only to 436kN, it is known to be studying versions of more than 445kN, with the designations Trent "8100" and "8102" being applied to the studies internally.

R-R confirms that it is in discussion with Boeing and the airlines on a higher-thrust engine.

While Emirates, MAS and SIA are all Trent customers, Korean Air is a Pratt & Whitney user and is believed to be putting intense pressure on the US engine maker to develop an even higher-thrust version of the PW4000 beyond the engine now being run in tests for the 777-300.

P&W says, however, that it has "-no plans at the moment to push above 98,000lb thrust".

P&W officials were expected to discuss future engine-growth possibilities with Boeing and Korean Air around 21 March.

Source: Flight International