GE Aviation and the Safran Group have agreed to form a joint venture to develop, produce and support engine nacelles and subsystems for the next generation of narrowbody aircraft.

Under the new 50:50 joint venture, Safran company Aircelle is teaming with GE's fully owned Middle River Aircraft Systems subsidiary. The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding during the Farnborough air show covering the new partnership, which will increase the companies' geographical spread and broaden their work span.

Middle River Aircraft Systems president and general manager Sagar Patel says: "The focus will be to design, integrate and produce nacelle systems for future single-aisle aircraft." He adds that the new step-change nacelle system is likely to take roughly five years to develop, although the partners will pursue any upgrade work which becomes available.

Over the coming months Aircelle and Middle River will establish their respective work shares, corporate identity and headquarters location. The two companies plan to adopt a joint management and operational structure, although they will remain independent.

Aircelle chief executive Jean-Pierre Cojan says: "The next generation of engine nacelles will require new technologies and significant financial resources for their development. The new joint venture of Aircelle and Middle River Aircraft Systems will bring together both these elements, and will have a global footprint that allows customer proximity worldwide."

Baltimore-based Middle River's activities are largely US-focused. It is active on several Boeing, GE and military programmes. By contrast, Aircelle is primarily a European player, although it has a strong presence in Morocco. Its main customers are Airbus and Rolls-Royce, but Aircelle is also active on regional and business jet programmes.

Patel says strong "firewalls" will be put in place to ensure data protection and confidentiality when the companies perform work for rival manufacturers.

He adds that Aircelle ranks number two in the market, while Middle River is fourth. Together the companies are aiming to become market leader through their combined specialisations that comprise all nacelle elements, from engine inlets to exhaust nozzles - including thrust reversers, fan cowls, acoustic treatment, thermal protection, anti-icing, engine pylons and mounts.

Cojan says that staff members will continue to be employed by their respective parent companies and they will be unaffected by the development.

The executives decline to comment on the potential synergy value of the partnership, stressing that the joint venture is not a merger and each company is bringing its own contribution to the partnership. They value the overall nacelle market over the next 10-15 years at around $3-4 billion.

GE and Safran have over 35 years of joint venture experience through their CFM International 50:50 engine joint venture.

Source: Flight International