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Farnborough: Engine Alliance studying rival GP7000 to Rolls-Royce's Trent planned powerplant for Airbus A350 XWB

By Kerry Ezard at the Farnborough air show

Engine Alliance believes its GP7000 engine is largely compatible with the requirements of the two smaller variants of the revamped Airbus A350 XWB, but further evaluation is needed to meet the requirements of the larger variant, the A350-1000.

The announcement comes a day after UK engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce confirmed it has sealed a preliminary agreement to supply a next-generation Trent engine for Airbus’s new revamped A350 aircraft family.

Speaking today at the Farnborough air show, Pratt and Whitney (P&W) president Steve Finger said the GP7000, which is being jointly developed by P&W and General Electric, has “a lot of attributes that would work” on the A350 XWB. He adds that P&W is “working through Engine Alliance to make an evaluation”.

Airbus yesterday unveiled its revamp plan for the A350, which includes three variants: the 270-seat A350-800, the 314-seat A350-800, and the 350-seat A350-1000. The airframer is seeking to have a choice of two powerplants on the aircraft and has already sealed a preliminary agreement with one supplier, Rolls-Royce, covering all three models.

P&W commercial engines president Steve Heath says the manufacturer will “study Airbus’ requirements” and carry out “some upgrades” to the existing GP7000, which is designed to power the Airbus A380. However, with a thrust range of between 74,000lb (330kN) and 84,000lb, the engine in its existing form is not capable of meeting the 95,000lb thrust required by the A350-1000.

“Engine Alliance could cover the -800 and -900 with the current engine – the big aircraft is the problem,” he notes.

Finger declines to disclose whether Engine Alliance has been approached by Airbus over developing a powerplant for the revamped A350 family, but notes the joint venture is “in discussions” with the European manufacturer. “Our focus is to leverage the investment we’ve already made,” he adds.

Airbus's hinted yesterday that it would be seeking to have a choice of two powerplants on the A350 XWB. “We have a commitment from Rolls-Royce – for an engine for each aircraft. It is going to have another engine and we are in discussions with different manufacturers and engine alliances,” said Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy.

Rolls-Royce president of civil aerospace Mike Terrett says: "As a result of positive discussions with Airbus, we have concluded a preliminary framework agreement to make a new member of the Trent family available on the A350 XWB.

"Establishing a position on this programme is important for Rolls-Royce. It broadens our excellent working relationship with Airbus through a significant new venture, and provides a strong platform as we aim to maintain our position as the leading engine supplier for the new-generation widebody market."

Ironically Rolls-Royce now finds itself as the first engine manufacturer to sign up to the programme, having joined the original A350 programme only last October. The original A350 was initially offered to carriers with only the rival General Electric GEnx engine, before Rolls-Royce reached agreement to develop a new powerplant, the Trent 1700 engine, for the aircraft.

First flight of the A350 XWB family is slated for 2011 ahead of a mid-2012 service entry target.

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