By Geoff Thomas in Farnborough
It’s usually the airframers that dictate the pace of new aircraft launches, but engine-makers are now starting to call the shots. At the Farnborough air show, Pratt & Whitney announced a series of strategic alliances that could force the pace over replacements for the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 single-aisle jets.
P&W had formed new strategic relationships with MTU Aero Engines, Avio and Volvo Aero for the continued development of key geared turbofan engine technologies, and this could push either Boeing or Airbus - or both - to speed up the process of announcing replacements for their best-selling medium-range twinjets.
Steve Heath, P&W’s outgoing president, commercial engines, accompanied by Robert Saia, vide president commercial engine programmes, told Flight Daily News that the geared turbofan engine is only a year away from a ground test and around two years away from a flight demonstration on P&W’s flying test-bed Boeing 747.
Heath says the geared turbofan will represent a step-change in engine performance for single-aisle aircraft. He explains: “It’s all about propulsive efficiency. With our new engine, we’ll be able to run the fan and both the LP [low pressure] and HP [high pressure] sections at their optimum speeds, giving around 12% better fuel economy and a 30dB noise reduction over Stage 3 requirements. We’ll also be able to increase the by-pass ratio to between 11 or 12 to one.
“All our market research indicates that customers of the net generation single-aisle aircraft will be equally focused engine performance and cost of operation.”
Saia adds: “We’ll have all the technology ready by the end of 2008 at the latest and although we can do the flight tests using our own Boeing 747, it would be much better if we could work with Boeing or Airbus right from the start, so that together we can deal with all the aircraft integration issues.”
As well as the technical challenges to be overcome, there’s also the issue of how the new engine will be brought to market. Steve Heath’s preference is for the engine to be produced and marketed by International Aero Engines (IAE) which is owned by P&W (32.5%), Rolls-Royce (32.5%), Japanese Aero Engines (23%) and MTU (12%).
“Ideally,” says Heath, “we need the shareholders to agree about the way forward within the next six to nine months. I believe it would be logical for the GTF engine to be in the IAE stable, because their expertise and market knowledge is in single-aisle aircraft. They know the makers and they know the airlines.”