Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES
To the engine makers competing for the extremely cost-sensitive market to power 30/90-seat airliners, the answer to how many more new types are on their way is anyone's guess. Forecasts are affected by many unknowns, ranging from the perception of "real 30-seat jet economics" and the scope clause (in the USA), to production availability and even the impact of the "herding instinct" on procurement trends.
Although each of the manufacturer's estimates may vary in detail, they all agree on one thing - the new regional jet race is worth winning. Leading the pack, and by a long head, are General Electric and Rolls-Royce's Allison Engines. AlliedSignal, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Snecma are in hot pursuit with a series of new projects.
At least three of the engine makers, AlliedSignal, Allison and GE, project markets for around 4,000 regional jets with fewer than 100 seats over the next 20 years. Allison, safely aboard the best-selling Embraer RJ-135 and RJ-145 with its AE3007 series, is predictably bullish, as is GE with its CF34 experience.
AlliedSignal, on the other hand, has yet to field a new engine on a new small regional jet, but is equally optimistic. The company argues that, of all the engine makers, it has the bulk of experience with small powerplants in regional operation. It has a significant customer base with its LF502/507 on the British Aerospace 146/ Avro RJ and is pushing ahead with development of an all-new AS900 series to meet the demands of next generation corporate and regional jets.
"Sometimes, being the last guy in is the right thing to do," says AlliedSignal Engines director of marketing and business development for commercial propulsion Ed White. The company is working flat out on a new centreline core on which to build its new family. Called the Technology Validation and Test (TVT), the core's first derivative application is widely expected to be the re-engined Avro RJ-X announced at last week's US Regional Airline Association meeting.
Unlike the original TVT, with its three-axial compressor, single-centrifugal and single high-pressure turbine (HPT) stages, the first AS900 family member (AS907A) is expected to have a four-stage axial and single centrifugal compressor with a two stage HPT. "The engine had to get bigger," says White, who adds that the emphasis remains tightly focused on low stage and part count, simplicity and low cost.
"About six years ago, we identified a phenomenon in the business jet arena where operators wanted to see prices of $10-15 million for new aircraft that were far more capable. There was a shift in value. They wanted better range/payload and an engine that would stay on wing for 10 years. We looked at the CFM56 and Tay in airline service and they said 'we want it to be like that, with good performance, super reliability and low cost of operation'," says White. "Exactly the same words you're hearing again from the regional jet manufacturers."
CLOSE LINKS WITH AIRFRAMERS
Unlike AlliedSignal, which inherited its regional jet business base with the purchase of Textron Lycoming, Allison has nurtured its own market through a close association with Embraer on the RJ-135/145. "In that regard, we're fortunate to be on the premier aircraft in the marketplace," says Allison vice-president for large commercial engines, Al Novick. Noting the uncertainties that dogged the EMB-145 (as it was originally called), and the subsequent lead taken by Bombardier's Canadair Regional Jet, Novick describes Embraer's success as "-nothing short of phenomenal. If you take deliveries, firm orders and options, they have surpassed the CRJ, which started deliveries in 1992." The first ERJ-145 began operations with Continental Express in April 1997.
To date, Allison has delivered 126 AE3007 engines to Embraer for the ERJ-135/145 and "almost as many" to Cessna for the Citation X business jet programme. "This marketplace is very bright for the future and we plan to deliver over 200 engines a year to Embraer over the next few years. That's big volume," says Novick, who adds that "continuous input of advanced features" will be maintained to keep the engine competitive and ready for other opportunities.
Allison, like the other engine makers, sees the biggest growth potential in the 30- and 50-seater range, although it still expresses caution over the former despite being current market leader. "We still firmly believe in the 30-seater, but the shift is predicated on the operating costs happening the way many expect them to," says Ken Roberts, regional industry analyst for Allison. The company predicts a demand for more than 1,800 30-seaters between 1998 and 2017, of which "-60% to 70% will be jets", says Roberts. For manufacturers, this works out at 90 airframes a year, of which more than 60 will be jet powered. Embraer and Fairchild Dornier, with the P&WC PW306B-powered 328JET, are the only manufacturers so far to show their hand in this sector.
AlliedSignal sees a similar swing. "Our opinion has changed in the 30/35-seat jet market. We originally saw a demand for maybe 500 to 700, but now we have a view that there will be between 1,400 and 1,500 because they are effective in replacing turboprops," says White.
GE sees an equally large opportunity, but, unlike its competitors, cannot easily find the justification to develop an engine for this market. "We would love to have an engine in that market because we think there is a big potential," says GE small commercial turbofan department general manager Frank Klaus. "We have prospective customers coming to us saying 'we want a GE engine', but we don't have one to take off the shelf. We'd have to develop one. We've studied it and we don't have an answer," adds Klaus, who says that a partnership may solve the dilemma - -"particularly if someone builds a new 30-seat jet from scratch and not a modified version of something else".
The highest predicted demand is in the 50-seater bracket. AlliedSignal sees a need for between 1,800 and 2,000 aircraft, while Allison and GE envisage a similar figure. The company estimates that almost 2,800 new 50-seaters will be built over the next 20 years, of which "around three-quarters" could be jets, says Roberts. Based on this figure, an annual output of up to 110 jet-powered 50-seaters is "not unreasonable," he adds. The predictions back up early results from the manufacturers, which have collected more than 500 firm orders between them. The go-ahead for the 428JET adds further evidence to the booming trend in the sector.
While the growth of 50-seaters is expected to be led by the North American market, much of the buoyancy predicted in the "70"-seat (actually 61-90, according to Allison, and 70-100 in the opinion of AlliedSignal) will be generated by Europe. In the North American market, so often the leader in regional jet growth, the CRJ 700 orderbook has virtually stagnated. Worldwide, just 29 sales have been booked so far and, apart from American Airlines, the big operators have not yet committed because of uncertainty over the scope clause stranglehold.
PLETHORA OF PROGRAMMES
Adding to the confusion in the 70-seater range is the plethora of potential new programmes still waiting in the wings. Although the Avro RJ family (and the prospective RJ-X) and CRJ-700 are the only firmly launched contenders, they could eventually be competing with the Fairchild Dornier 728JET/928JET, Boeing 717-100, possible Airbus A319-M5 derivatives, a restructured Airjet 70 driven by ATR and, potentially, even the Indonesian N-2130 and and Embraer RJ-175. Given the uncertainty surrounding most of these efforts, however, it seems certain that mergers and cancellations will narrow the field substantially.
With or without so many contenders, AlliedSignal cautiously predicts a market for "around 1,000 plus aircraft", while Allison sees a need for almost 1,800 units over the 20-year period, of which "more than half" will be jet powered, says Roberts. Although "-there is still a lot of interest" in larger turboprops like the ATR 72 and Dash 8-400, he adds: "The one thing I feel confident about is that 70-seat turboprops are not going to have very significant penetration in the USA. If scope clauses permit US airlines to operate 70-seaters, they will be jets."
Many are therefore waiting to watch on one hand the introduction of CRJ-700 services by American Airlines and, on the other, the expansion of turboprops into new territories around the world. The possible setting up of an ATR production line in China, for example, is seen by some as a bellwether of turboprop destiny.
GE, on the other hand, is naturally more optimistic about sales in the 60/90-seat sector, where the CRJ-700 has a head start. Although coy about its actual figures, GE is thought to foresee a market close to 2,000 aircraft for this area. "It's the most lucrative of all, and only Bombardier is there at the moment," adds Klaus.
GE is focused on completing development of the CF34-8C1 for the CRJ-700 and is "on track" for certification in November 1999 says programme manager Tracy Moore. The 58kN (13,000lb)-thrust engine beat competition from the AE3012, BMW Rolls-Royce BR710 and AlliedSignal LF512 proposals for the CRJ-700, which is to enter service in late 2000.
GE, which plans to build up rapidly to deliver four -8C engine shipsets a month for the CRJ-700 from 2000, now delivers six a month for the CRJ line. Moore is optimistic that lessons learned from the company's larger civil engine side, and the CF34's own regional experience, will make the -8C1 attractive, not only to CRJ-700 users, but to other potential regional applications. "One of the essential things needed for the regional market is very quick turnaround times. This engine is designed with common right and left sides, so there are very few parts you have to swop. Features like that make a big difference," says Moore.
The engine is competing for business on the proposed 728JET as the -8D, and "-we've looked at ways to grow the architecture without making major changes" to meet the higher thrust needs of the proposed 928JET, she adds. As with the others, GE has recognised the regional's overriding need for reliability. "That was our strategy all along. No new materials, no new inventions. We're not going to try for that last 0.5 specific fuel consumption reduction- it's more important to keep maintenance costs down," adds GE propulsion system engineering manager, Joe Palladino.
The company's biggest competitor is the joint Pratt & Whitney Canada/Snecma SPW14 turbofan. Although essentially a "paper" engine, it was selected in 1997 over the BR710, CF34-8 and AE3012 to power the initial Airjet 70. Despite the subsequent break-up of the AI(R) consortium, P&WC chief executive Dave Kaplan believes the engine is still a credible competitor for any new regional - including a revamped Airjet 70 under the ATR banner. "We were selected on technical merit the first time for that, and that says a lot about the design. It is a good engine," he adds.
If selected for the Fairchild Dornier, or any other new regional, the plan remains for Snecma to develop the core. It is also expected to retain responsibility for the fan which was sized at 1,140mm diameter for the Airjet 70. P&WC would primarily develop the engine's four-axial/single centrifugal compressor and remaining low- pressure system.
While the SPW14 remains alive as a concept, P&WC's most immediate task in the regional jet arena is the marketing of the smaller PW308. The engine is being developed for Raytheon's Hawker Horizon business aircraft and is expected to make its first run by the end of June, with certification targeted for March 2000. "We want to find other homes for the engine," says P&WC general aviation powerplant marketing manager Ian Matthews, who says both the corporate and regional markets are under attack, with Avro and Fairchild Dornier in its sights.
P&WC has successfully placed the PW308B on the 428JET, which follows in the footsteps of the smaller PW306B derivative on the 328JET. The PW306, like the PW308 and 305 before that, has its roots in the corporate market, despite finding an application on a regional airliner, having been chosen as the engine for the Galaxy Aerospace Galaxy business jet. "We're basically building a family and are therefore using the same general layout, with a few changes," says Matthews. On the PW308, these include a larger, 840mm diameter fan to help generate a 30% increase in core flow, and the introduction of newer, higher temperature resistant materials in the HPT.
Nevertheless, the focus, as always in the regional jet business, continues to be on low cost rather than high technology. "The major airlines are going back to their core business - that of moving people. That has placed the emphasis on costs. So any technology we use has to prove it has a tangible benefit on costs before it gets included," says Matthews.
Source: Flight International