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A320 re-engine decision in 2010

Airbus expects to decide by the end of next year whether to re-engine the A320 family, CAO has learned.

A senior Airbus executive said the manufacturer is in discussions with Pratt & Whitney, CFM International, Rolls-Royce and the PW-RR partnership International Aero Engines.

Re-engining the A320 family is part of a shifting strategy to meet emerging competitors and a determination that a replacement airplane with required technological advancements needed to meet growing airline demands won't be ready until the early part of the 2020 decade.

Boeing is also considering a re-engined 737, something that is more challenging given the "737 squat" much closer to the ground than the A320. This dramatically reduces the options for a new engine because of the diameter constraints.

John Leahy, Airbus COO-Customers, hinted at re-engined 737s and A320s being delivered to 2024, the new Airbus target date, in an interview with Flight International.

CAO not only confirmed the active Airbus study but learned the strategic thinking behind it. CAO has also learned that CFM International is prepared to accelerate its LEAP-X program, originally planned for a 2016 engine certification, followed by an EIS that was timed to coincide with a new 2018-2020 airframe.

China's Comac wants to begin flight testing with its proposed 919 in 2014 with a 2016 EIS. CFM submitted proposals to Comac to power the airplane, including the LEAP-X engine. "If we are selected, we will absolutely meet the aircraft schedule requirements," a CFM spokesperson told CAO on 24 September.

Airbus believes technology won't converge until the 2020 decade to produce a 40% all-in gain in operating costs desired by airlines. At its Airbus Innovation Days in May, officials described these technologies as the open rotor engine' goal of 25%-26% better fuel burn compared with today's engines; significant advances in airframe design, better fuels and sharp improvements in navigation/air traffic control systems.

In the meantime, airlines want 10%-15% better fuel burn within the next five years or so. This can only be accomplished by re-engining the 737 and A320. Comac's 919 and Bombardier's CSeries propose airplanes that will have about a 16% improvement. The CSeries has Pratt & Whitney's P1000G GTF engine and will compete with the 737-700 and A319. Comac's 919 proposes a 150-200 seat airplane-directly competitive with the 737-800/900 and A320/321-also with a 16% better fuel burn compared with today's aircraft.

Airbus is known to believe that re-engining the A320 family with a the PW GTF, the CFM LEAP-X or the Rolls-Royce three-stage engine will maintain competitiveness with emerging airplanes and meet airline demands for a step-improvement now rather than being forced to wait until the 2020 decade for game-changers. Entry-into-service (EIS) for a re-engined A320, if a go-ahead is achieved by year-end 2010, would be around 2015. Airbus believes a re-engined aircraft must be saleable for 7-8 years to amortise the development costs.

In the fourth quarter last year, PW said its research and development costs to develop a GTF engine big enough for the 737/A320 was $1 billion, and a four-year lead time was needed for EIS.

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