The race to deliver the next step in commercial engine technology is being dictated by Boeing’s requirements for its New Mid-market Airplane project. And it looks like there can only be one winner, if Seattle decides to stick with its recent policy of a sole-source deal.
CFM International – as the incumbent exclusive supplier to Boeing’s single-aisle lines – is widely regarded as the front runner. But Pratt & Whitney – energised by the disruption it has caused with its geared turbofan – will certainly have other ideas.
Many believe the NMA will have a single engine choice. But, as Lockheed found out with the TriStar, there are risks with that strategy, especially as powerplant engineers are always pushing the boundaries of technology to drive further efficiency gains.
Boeing should underline its confidence in its 20-year demand forecast for 4,000-5,000 mid-market aircraft by opting for two engine suppliers, as there should be plenty of room for both to prosper. However, such a decision may prove less popular with the leasing community.
While the winners are as yet unclear, the only loser at present is Rolls-Royce, which withdrew from the NMA propulsion contest because of concerns about Boeing’s tight timetable. Cynics might say the UK manufacturer only had an outside chance on the NMA, given relatively limited links to Boeing – certainly compared with the strength of its Airbus ties.
That, plus the ongoing headaches R-R is giving Boeing with the Trent 1000 on the 787, is not likely to have helped Derby’s case with NMA programme chiefs.
But dropping out of the NMA race puts R-R’s product development in an interesting position. A decade ago it walked away from the opportunity to partner with P&W on the geared turbofan. If it hoped this would undermine efforts to reboot the commercial engines business in East Hartford, it was mistaken.
Indeed, R-R’s decision to pass on the re-engined single-aisle market in order to focus on creating the powerplant technology for the next all-new platform may also have misfired, given the NMA situation.
The jury is out on when either of the current narrowbody lines will run out of road – but, given their backlogs, that is unlikely to occur within the next decade.
For R-R, the most promising opportunity is probably a powerplant for any A350-based response by Airbus to counter Boeing’s 777X. The challenge will be to avoid the distraction of the Trent 1000 and ensure that, this time, the OEM’s deadline is not missed.