International Aero Engines (IAE) is in talks with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) over potentially supplying a powerplant for China's new-generation narrowbody aircraft.

IAE CEO Jon Beatty says IAE has provided Comac with information on its new engine capabilities and the two companies are discussing a potential partnership.

"We are working with Comac," Beatty tells ATI. "We have dialogue. We have paper being exchanged back and forth with Comac."

Comac last year unveiled plans to develop a new 130- to 200-seat aircraft aimed at replacing Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s in the domestic Chinese market as well as overseas. ATI reported in March that Comac had submitted request for information (RFI) to several engine manufacturers, including Shanghai-based AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine (ACAE), GE and Pratt & Whitney.

Beatty reveals IAE also received the RFI and says all of IAE's shareholders, including Pratt & Whitney, have agreed the preferred route for a new narrowbody engine is the IAE consortium. IAE's four shareholders - Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, MTU Aero Engines and the Japanese Aero Engines Corporation - have previously pledged to use the IAE vehicle to pursue new narrowbody aircraft projects and Beatty says this was reiterated during the last board IAE board meeting.

"I just came back from a board meeting in London and Rolls, Pratt, MTU and JAEC have all stated emphatically that IAE is the preferred route to market," Beatty says. "We are the route to market for a single-aisle aircraft. The IAE franchise is wildly successful. The brand name is un-replaceable. Finally now we're getting almost as well known as CFM."

Pratt & Whitney's new geared turbofan (GTF) engine has been selected by Bombardier for the new 110- to 130-seat CSeries and by Mitsubishi Aircraft for the new 70- to 90-seat MRJ. But for larger single-aisle aircraft, including the so-called Comac 919 and potential A320 and 737 replacements at Airbus and Boeing, a consortium approach is more likely.

"That doesn't scare me at all," Beatty says, referring to the launch of the GTF. "What would scare me is if my shareholders weren't developing technology. What I have now is the best of all worlds.

"I got Pratt & Whitney developing geared turbofan technology. I got Rolls Royce heavily investing in technology. MTU is starting to come into their own developing their own technology. The Japanese have always been a significant source of technology and revenue".

But Beatty adds technologies that are capable of generating the double-digit fuel burn and efficiency improvements required to support a new narrowbody aircraft project are not being worked on at the IAE level. "That level of development is being aggressively worked at all four shareholders," he says.

Beatty says IAE also has its own technology people working on further improvements to the V2500 beyond the Select 1 upgrade, which entered service last October with 1% improved fuel burn and 20% improved time on wing. "We continue to develop product improvements ourselves," he says. "We clearly aren't sitting still. We have other advances we are working on."

"There's no doubt in my mind that if either Boeing or Airbus was to launch that we could put a product together. In fact we have submitted proposals to several airframers [including Comac] on brand new engines on what we could do. But as of today there is no new product launch."

While Airbus and Boeing and are "talking about" a new narrowbody aircraft, Beatty says for now both seem reluctant to launch. He points out the A320 and 737 are now the "bread and butter" for Airbus and Boeing and both manufacturers are relying on the narrowbodies to get them through problems with some of their new widebody programmes.

"Who blinks first? Right now there is an equilibrium that exists," Beatty says.

China, however, is moving fast with Comac planning a 2014 first flight and 2016 entry into service for its new narrowbody aircraft. "The Chinese will build a very successful aircraft," Beatty says. "It may be off schedule at the beginning but eventually they will build a nice product."

As it eyes a potential role in the new Comac progamme, IAE is looking to leverage its recent success in China. Beatty points out the V2500 now has a 73% share of the A320 market in China and IAE is closely involved in the new A320 final assembly line in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. IAE delivered the first V2500 to Tianjin in October, and is supplying the engines for the first 10 A320s to be produced at the new facility.

"We're doing real well in China," Beatty says.

He adds that while the current downturn has prompted Chinese carriers to defer delivery of new widebodies, there have not yet been any cancellations or deferrals of A320s. In fact, IAE continues to see China as a major growth market for the V2500.

"We're seeing slowed growth but we're still seeing growth," Beatty says. "We're still seeing growth in China. And we're still doing some new business in Europe."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news