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  • Deep ties and robust performance guarantees push Virgin America to CFM’s Leap

Deep ties and robust performance guarantees push Virgin America to CFM’s Leap

Virgin America's decision to become the CFM International Leap engine launch customer for the Airbus A320neo ultimately rested on its long-standing relationship with CFM, and the performance guarantees the engine manufacturer was willing to pledge to the carrier.

CFM56 engines power all the carrier's 39 Airbus A320 family aircraft; yet winning the deal to power Virgin America's 30 A320neos was far from a given for CFM.

Shortly after Virgin America placed its order for 30 A320neos and 30 current-generation Airbus narrowbodies in January, Virgin America management said the "Pratt engine seems a little further along".

Virgin America A320neo, Airbus
© Airbus

Speaking to Flight International after Virgin America chose the CFM engine, designated the Leap-X1A for the A320neo, carrier chief executive David Cush stressed the contest between the two powerplants "was quite a close competition" and the airline conducted an extensive technical and financial analysis of both engine offerings.

Cush explained Virgin America's board of directors "was comfortable with both propositions,", but one element that "pushed CFM over the top" was the carrier's existing ties to CFM.

Another critical factor in Virgin America's decision rested on CFM's pledge on the Leap's performance. While the commitments from both manufacturers on fuel efficiency improvements are very close, Cush said the "strength of the performance guarantee from CFM was stronger than Pratt & Whitney".

However, Cush commended P&W for "running a good race", and noted that with P&W gaining pledges for the PW1100G from a number of early A320neo customers, CFM was under increasing pressure to close a deal.

Lufthansa and Indian carrier IndiGo have yet to firm their A320neo orders, but each airline has opted for the geared turbofan to power their respective A320neos once the orders are firmed. US lessor International Lease Finance has selected the PW1100G to power 60 of the 100 A320neos it has committed to order. Brazilian carrier TAM has yet to firm its order for 22 A320neos or select an engine supplier.

Virgin America expects to take delivery of its first A320neo in August 2016, said Cush, who added that the carrier has the unusual position of being the launch customer for both the aircraft and Leap-X1A engine, "but will receive neither first".

Depending on the year, Virgin America expects to accept eight to 10 A320neo deliveries a year until it receives all 30 aircraft, Cush explained.

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