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CFM sets new engine delivery record despite Leap shortfall

CFM International delivered a total of 459 Leap engines to three manufacturers in 2017, but the joint venture struggled to keep pace with demand while coping with parts shortages and teething problems in service, executives said on 25 January.

The number of Leap engine deliveries last year represented a six-fold increase over the 77 Leap-1A engines delivered to the Airbus A320neo family in 2016 and formed about one-fourth of the 1,900 engines that CFM delivered overall to set a new annual record in 2017, says CFM executive vice-president Francois Bastin.

Despite the swift production ramp-up, CFM still fell short of demand from Airbus and Boeing. The joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines is running about four to five weeks behind on engine deliveries, Bastin says, speaking to journalists on a teleconference hosted by CFM on 25 January ahead of the Singapore air show.

The delivery shortfall means CFM is under pressure to continue meeting demand in 2018, with a planned 250% jump in production to 1,100 to 1,200 engine deliveries this year, Bastin says.

“We are a handful of weeks behind demand,” he says. “It’s that much and only that much. The demand is a tremendous ramp-up that was set years ago.”

CFM’s Leap-1A first entered service on the A320neo in August 2016, followed by the Leap-1B on the 737 Max 8 about nine months later. After delivering 77 Leap engines in 2016 and 459 in 2017, CFM plans to deliver up 1,200 more this year, 1,800 more in 2019 and more than 2,000 in 2020, Bastin says. At the same time, CFM is continuing to build large numbers of CFM56 engines.

The production ramp-up is part of a rapid growth spurt in the single-aisle market, as Airbus and Boeing race to double production capacity within a decade, with announced deliveries reaching nearly 60 a month for A320neo and 737 Max families by next year. Meanwhile, CFM and Pratt & Whitney also are supporting several other aircraft types, with the former providing the Leap-1C for the Comac C919 and the latter building versions of the geared turbofan for the Airbus A320neo, Bombardier CSeries, Embraer E-Jet E2, Irkut MC-21 and Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

“It’s not a walk in the park,” Bastin acknowledges. “We have some disruptions. We are working to address them.”

The first sign of teething issues appeared last May when Boeing grounded the 737 Max 8 test fleet on the eve of entry-into-service to address a flaw in turbine discs within about 30 or 40 Leap-1B engines. A few months later, CFM also discovered another disc forging problem that caused the joint venture to remove 70 Leap-1As for inspections, of which about half are completed, says Alan Paxson, CFM’s second executive vice-president.

Around the same time, CFM also detected a problem with a coating for a turbine shroud. The coating was flaking off the ceramic matrix composite (CMC) shrouds, leading to an increase in exhaust gas temperatures. CFM is implementing several repairs to keep Leap engines with the defective coating in operation longer despite the metal-fatiguing temperature increase, while also working to develop a more effective coating for the CMC shrouds, Bastin says.

Finally, the company also is working to increase supply chain capacity to keep up with demand during the production ramp-up, Bastin says. The company decided to work with two sources for each major component in the engine, so the rate of deliveries would never be threatened if one supplier ran into trouble. But that strategy also made it more complicated to ramp up production with a larger number of suppliers. Despite those challenges, CFM expects to complete its two-source capacity strategy by the end of this year, Bastin says.

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