BFGoodrich's campaign to quieten Boeing 727s is making rapid progress



Spending serious money to extend the life of an airliner is tough, but spending more to re-engine it is harder. Despite the apparent economic headwind, BFGoodrich's Super 27 Boeing 727 re-engining programme is rapidly gaining momentum and is sold out into next year.

Launched by Rohr at the 1996 Farnborough air show, the Super 27 programme revived a re-engining modification for the Boeing 727-200 developed by Valsan Partners almost a decade earlier. Like the Valsan 727RE "Quiet 727" effort, the Super 27 modification involves acoustic treatment of the centre engine, removal of the thrust reverser and replacement of the outer Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7/9s with higher bypass, more efficient, JT8D-217/219s.

The result, says BFGoodrich, is dramatically improved performance, with the crucial capability to meet the European non-addition rule governing the use of hushkitted aircraft.

It is not only the noise and performance issues that have stimulated new sales of the Super 27, but also the new-found financial muscle of the former Rohr company, merged with BFGoodrich in December 1997. Trading as the Aerostructures Group of the parent company, it continues traditional Rohr work of designing, integrating, manufacturing and supporting aircraft engine nacelle systems as well as the Super 27 and the unrelated Seven Q Seven (7Q7) re-engining efforts. With access to the greater financing and credit strength of the larger BFGoodrich, the Super 27 marketing teams are opening previously unobtainable areas.

Director of programmes David Foos says: "It's made a huge difference. We have a full team and we treat this just like an MD-11 or anMD-80 programme. We have customer staff, finance staff and people feel comfortable that we are going to be around and that, when they call, they will get more than voice mail."

Better financing options have made it possible for a wider group of 727 operators to look more realistically at the Super 27 option. The basic list price for the conversion is $8.6 million, versus roughly $2.8 million for a comparable hushkit. To close this seemingly impossible business case, BFGoodrich begins by subtracting the notional cost of the hushkit. Having reduced it to around $5.8 million, $1.8 million is lopped off for the resale value of two JT8Ds in reasonable condition. The resulting $4 million cost, says Robert Korn, manager of business development of the Aerostructures Group, is "for two brand-new engines versus run-out junkers". Korn adds that the improved 10-12% fuel efficiency of the new engines, added to the extra range and payload revenue potential of the Super 27, helps the operator achieve payback in short order. "They should be able to break even on a $40,000 a month lease rate," he adds. The fuel savings are claimed to be worth between $20,000 and $25,000 a month.

Whether these figures are realistic, the argument is winning new orders for BFGoodrich, which has experienced its best year with the programme. By the start of July, it had received orders this year for 23 aircraft conversions from Allegro Airlines, Pegasus Aviation and TransPacific Leasing and from two private operators. In June, Sun Country Airlines, a Minnesota-based carrier, took its fifth Super 27 - an aircraft leased from Riverhorse Investments. In the first half of this year, Venezuela-based Avensa Airlines began services with its first Super 27 between Caracas and New York. The combined tally of new orders brought overall Super 27 sales to 63, including the 22 conversions originally sold by Valsan.

Market momentum

Ongoing negotiations with Pegasus, the world's largest 727 lessor, with around 50 727-200s in its portfolio, are widely expected to result in the confirmation of five more options by the end of the year. Pegasus signed a firm purchase agreement in early June for five Super 27s, with 10 on option.

Pegasus is also expected to announce the placement of at least two of the Super 27s within weeks, as is TransPacific, says BFGoodrich. Pegasus president and chief executive Richard Wiley says the leasing company "values the way it gives our customers more range and greater payload capability out of difficult airfields. With the Super 27's high performance improvements, airlines will realise better overall efficiency and profitability on certain routes". With extra business likely from Pegasus and potential orders from overseas operators such as Sabre Airlines of the UK, BFGoodrich believes that sales could be close to 80 by the end of the year. Overall, it estimates a potential market for between 100 and 150 aircraft.

BFGoodrich Aerospace Aerostructures Group vice-president David Watson says: "It is not a huge programme for us, but it is picking up momentum. This is something we began with Valsan in the late 1980s and, when they went into receivership, we picked up the STC [supplemental type certificate] because they owed us a lot of money. We saw an opportunity in the market and began working with P&W. We needed a concerted marketing effort and that's what we have got," he adds.

Thanks to a high degree of commonality with the company's dwindling MD-80 work, the Super 27 nacelle and other components are considered "off the shelf hardware". Watson adds: "Every sale we make on that is incremental business." He also believes that the wider involvement of BFGoodrich offers new potential for the Super 27 programme. "With our new relationship with BFGoodrich, with everything it has to offer in maintenance and modification, we think we could open opportunities. We are looking at providing some sort of turnkey operation to re-life 727s, which would involve the Super 27 kit as well as other work."

In the meantime, the job of selling the Super 27 on merit goes on. The improved fuel consumption of the larger fan -217C/219 translates into several advantages. FedEx, which operates 11 Super 27s, independently verified the fuel savings by calculating the fuel consumption of an aircraft during flights to and from the modification site in California from its operations base at Memphis, Tennessee. The FedEx figure, of between 11% and 14%, equates closely with those of other operators, that have observed sea-level range increase by up to 550km (300nm), says BFGoodrich.

The increase allows non-stop services from Miami to Bogota, Quito and Manuas. The payload on a route such as Miami to Lima is almost 18,200kg (40,000lb) versus just 6,800kg on a JT8D-17-powered 727-200. Hot and high range is also extended, allowing a Super 27 to carry 18,200kg of freight from Mexico to Seattle, against a 6,800kg payload for the standard aircraft. Avensa, which had needed an auxiliary fuel tank and restricted loads to reach New York from Caracas, carries a full load without the extra tank on direct flights, says Korn.

Better short-field performance

The added power at take-off gives the Super 27 vastly improved short-field performance. This, according to BFGoodrich, reduces take-off length by as much as 20% and increases short-field range by up to 2,200km. This, in turn, can be translated into additional fuel or payload of more than 9,000kg. Time to climb is also reduced dramatically, by around 23%, despite the empty-weight increase of roughly 1,540kg. This is incurred by the heavier weight of the larger engines, the reverser, nacelle, engine mounts and strut, which are required for the outer engine installation. Minus tailpipe, the basic -217/219 weighs in at around 2,000kg versus 1,590kg for the -17 version. Weight is also added by the structural reinforcement of parts of the aft fuselage from the rear pressure bulkhead aft. Some weight is saved, however, with the removal of the centre engine reverser.

On the critical aspect of noise, Korn believes the Super 27 "is a lot more likely to fly through the successor to Europe's non-addition rule. This aircraft is as quiet as the A300 or A310, and is within one or two decibels of the 727-100Q [the UPS 727-100 Rolls-Royce Tay 650 conversion]." Against the 727-200, the Super 27's 85dBA footprint area is reduced by around 66%. At a maximum take-off weight of around 86,500kg, and at sea level, the 85dBA contour of the -200 covers 27km2 (10.5 miles2) compared to 9km2 for the Super 27.

Like other US manufacturers involved in hushkitting, or modifications, BFGoodrich is following keenly this year's developments in Europe. Although the European Commission approved a ban on European operation of hushkitted aircraft, it compromised with the USA by postponing implementation for a year. The two sides, meanwhile, have agreed to work towards adopting a new Stage 4 noise and emissions regulation throughout the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

"It helps us to some extent on the Super 27, but it still leaves a shadow of a doubt. We can't really claim victory," says Watson, who adds that the legislation was "pretty well targeted [at the US manufacturers]. The legislation was really meant to write the JT8D out of the market. I think what's going to happen is that the definition of new noise regulations should be aimed at more reasonable targets and will not target specific products or aircraft."

P&W has developed the E-Kit, or Environmental Kit combustor system, to help JT8D-200 operators meet the latest environmental challenges. The E-Kit is the result of a four-year development effort. It reduces nitrous oxide emissions by 25%, unburned hydrocarbons by 99% and smoke by 52% relative to current models, says the engine maker. The new combustor "exceeds all ICAO standards for new production engines and qualifies for Swiss Class 5 emission category", says P&W. Kits will be available for Super 27 JT8D-217s, 217As, 217Cs and -219s this year, following the conclusion of flight tests in Spain on a Spanair MD-80.

With P&W's environmental initiative, rising interest and innovative financing, BFGoodrich hopes the Super 27 programme will accelerate into the next century.

Source: Flight International