Re-engined version of Airbus narrowbody could begin flight testing in 2010 and enter service a year later
Pratt & Whitney and Airbus are studying a modified version of the A320 powered by the geared turbofan (GTF) for service entry as early as 2011, offering Airbus a potential market advantage of up to two years over any competing new single-aisle design from Boeing.
Industry sources say the proposed A320 development is being studied - a move which, if confirmed, could force Boeing to accelerate its 737 replacement studies currently aimed at the 2013 timeframe. It could also provide Airbus with a quicker solution than any all-new designs being considered under its Next Generation Single-Aisle (NGSA) A320 successor studies.
The venture also raises questions about the continuing solidarity of the International Aero Engines consortium, in which P&W is a leading partner with Rolls-Royce. While both companies publicly continue to support their commitment to IAE, P&W has not ruled out going forward with a revised partnership if the GTF concept goes ahead.
P&W declines to comment on the specific potential for an early Airbus application, but confirms that its "current technology development plans support engine certification in 2011. We have been executing rig tests and technology proving demonstrations since late 2005, and we're scheduled to conduct the first ground test of the GTF demonstrator engine in mid-November 2007."
Airbus says that "no decision has been, or is about to be, taken on a new aircraft in this category", adding that it is "examining all possible technologies for the future".
The plan under discussion is believed to involve installation and flight tests on an A320 in early 2010, with engine-airframe certification following by mid-2011. Industry sources say that, although the installed GTF is expected to weigh considerably more than the CFM International CFM56 or International Aero Engines V2500, the specific fuel consumption advantage could be as much as 6% over existing engines. P&W previously said the advantage would be up to 12% in an all-new design.
The A320 wing would also require extensive modification to take the GTF, which is expected to be configured with a 1.95m (77in)-diameter fan - roughly the maximum size the existing A320 design can take without significant landing gear and other knock-on structural and configuration changes. Estimated wing change costs are believed to be in the $0.5-1.0 billion range, although this would increase if Airbus opted for an all-composite structure such as that planned for the A350.
"We plan to begin our GTF flight test programme in the middle of 2008, which would complete the required technology maturation for a programme launch that year. A programme launch in late 2008 would support FAR33 engine certification near the end of 2011," adds P&W. Flight tests were originally due to take place using P&W's 747, but testing on board Airbus's A340 flying testbed is believed to be under consideration.
The A320's wing would require extensive modification to take the GTF