US lessor International Lease Finance is holding talks with CFM International over the Leap-X engine for part of the tentative 100-aircraft order for Airbus's A320neo and A321neo.

ILFC intends to firm the memorandum over the coming weeks, having made the first powerplant selection for the re-engined twinjet by opting for the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G.

Chief executive Henri Courpron says that even though ILFC has selected the geared turbofan for "at least" 60 of the aircraft, the lessor is not precluded from opting for the rival Leap-X.

P&W's agreement covers PW1100G options for another 40 aircraft. Given that the ILFC deal includes 75 A320neo and 25 A321neo twinjets, this means the PW1100G could eventually be fitted to both types. The geared turbofan is designed to increase operating efficiency by enabling the turbine and fan to operate at separate, optimum speeds.

But Courpron says that ILFC is "of course" holding discussions with CFM.

Airbus says it will decide on which of the engines will be the lead development and certification powerplant for each variant. "These will be staggered by about six months, so it's no big deal," it adds.

"There is a six-month gap between the two engine options," says Airbus, but it has yet to determine the number of airframes to which the interim period equates. The A320neo is aimed at a spring 2016 service entry, while the A321neo will follow about six months later, and the A319neo six months after that.

Airbus says all the A320neo agreements so far - covering 302 aircraft - will be firm by the time of the Paris air show in June. It foresees a market of around 4,000 A320neo-family aircraft in the next 15 years.

ILFC will become the first customer to commit to the larger A321neo, and Courpron is convinced the type will become a successful Boeing 757 replacement.

ILFC's aircraft are scheduled for delivery from 2016, the year Airbus is planning to introduce the A320neo. Virgin America, IndiGo and TAM have all agreed to take the re-engined twinjet but none has yet selected an engine.

P&W says the leasing company's agreement is a "strong endorsement" of the geared turbofan. Courpron says the engine technology will "improve fuel efficiency and address other environmental advantages for our customers".

Airbus' A320neo agreement with ILFC comes at the expense of its 10 A380s. It has axed its long-held order, ending months of uncertainty over the type after ILFC deferred A380 deliveries last year. ILFC had been the only leasing customer for the type, four of which would have been powered by Engine Alliance GP7200s. Courpron says P&W's involvement in Engine Alliance did not influence its A320neo engine choice.

Courpron says the decision was less about the aircraft's performance and more about "where we spend our aircraft dollars". While the A380 has had good success commercially, it has a limited customer base, he explains, while narrowbodies are more liquid and easier to move around - the lessor complemented the Airbus deal by firming 33 Boeing 737-800s.

Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy shrugs off the cancellation. "The A380 is a long-term programme," he says.

Courpron says that ILFC has wanted to "rebalance" its orderbook with single-aisle types and waited for Airbus to make its decision to re-engine the aircraft. "It wasn't a given," he says. "If the [Bombardier] CSeries makes some progress in the marketplace and when Boeing makes a decision on [re-engining] the 737 we'll act accordingly."

Additional reporting by David Kaminski-Morrow

Source: Flight International