General Electric and Pratt & Whitney's Engine Alliance is considering bidding to be exclusive engine supplier with the GP7000 to the proposed Boeing 747X and 767-400ERX, in a complex move that could threaten a launch decision on Boeing's 777-100X. Meanwhile, Boeing continues to target a number of key customers for the 777 variant.

The controversial move could depend on the outcome of studies by GE, which was favourite to power the longer range 767-400ERX version with a hybrid "G2" version of its CF6-80C2. The engine maker is "not convinced" the CF6 growth model is the best engine for the -400ERX, and says the GP7000 is being considered for the twin.

Before the study can progress, however, the Alliance partners need the sanction of the European Union, which approved the formation of the partnership with the proviso that GP7000 engines be used on proposed quad jet designs such as the 747X and Airbus A3XX.

"No-one has gone off to study that yet," says the Alliance, which declines to comment on a potential bid to seek exclusivity on the -400ERX and the 747X. GE adds, however, that rumours of a proposed bid for exclusivity on the 747X are "not true". Nonetheless, the limited market scope of the -400ERX, added to the battle for market share on the 747X with the A3XX, is likely to make the case for exclusivity particularly attractive.

Boeing has announced plans to develop the higher weight "enhanced" 767-400ER, thanks to interest from Kenya Airways. Boeing admits this is "for all intents and purposes" the -400ERX, but has subsequently pushed the project back into Product Development as it wrestles with the choice of engines for the aircraft.

The move threatens to derail the proposed 777-100X "shrink" variant, which is being pitched at International Lease Finance (ILFC), Northwest Airlines and Singapore Airlines as an alternative to the A330-200 and, to a lesser extent, the European consortium's proposed A330-100X. Northwest's interest in the 777-100X is as a possible replacement for its 21 McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30s and 21 DC-10-40s. Northwest is the only one of the four largest US carriers not to order the 777.

Information obtained by Flight International reveals Boeing has provisionally planned flight tests of the 777-100X and 767-400ERX between August and December 2003, but is unlikely to carry out both as the aircraft effectively compete for the same market.

The GP Alliance bid, if adopted, would help secure the launch of the -400ERX, but could damage the chances of launching the -100X which, as a 9.5 frame shrink, is considered marginal in terms of seat/kilometre costs.

Ron Ostrowski, vice-president and general manager 777 programme, says: "There are staunch proponents of the 767 and some that love the 777. We are getting interest for both versions. We have made no commitments, but we probably will soon."

Boeing is studying 12,200km (6,600nm), 13,320km and 14,800km range versions, and is reportedly gravitating towards the mid-range variant. If launched, the -100X is widely expected to enter major assembly in April 2003, and make its first flight in August.



Source: Flight International