Rolls-Royce is aiming to leapfrog its rival Engine Alliance on the Airbus A380 with a two-pronged development plan to enhance the performance of the Trent 900.

The engine maker has launched the first element of the package, dubbed the Trent 900EP, which is available for delivery from 2012. It will provide a 1% fuel burn improvement over today's Trent in service with Qantas and Singapore Airlines, says Richard Keen, who is R-R's head of marketing for Airbus programmes. "We've been talking to customers about this on a one-by-one basis through this year," he says.

The upgrade borrows new compressor blade/vane technology from the Trent 1000, which powers the 787 and has already been adopted for the Trent 700EP engine that was launched last year.

"The benefit of being part of an engine family is that we can flow technologies from the latest members back to existing products," says Keen. "We're now looking at what we can do beyond the EP for further improvements [from Trent 1000 and XWB] that could be available in the 2014 timeframe."

Rolls-Royce Trent 900
 © Rolls-Royce

The 900EP upgrade centres on the incorporation of elliptical blades and vanes on the engine's high-pressure and intermediate-pressure compressors, which R-R says is proven technology from the AE3007, V2500Select and Trent 700EP.

"This cannot be retrofitted on to existing engines, but for customers having engines built from 2011 we can talk to them about upgrading to an EP standard," Keen says. "It delivers a 1% fuel burn improvement with no impact on maintenance costs."

However, Keen indicates that the new specification will have a premium as the revised leading edges use a new manufacturing technology requiring very accurate machining. "There is a cost impact to put this technology on to the blade and we can't do that for nothing," he says.

R-R, which has been selected by nine of the 16 A380 customers to date, dismisses Engine Alliance claims that the GP7200 has a 1% fuel burn advantage over the current Trent 900: "We don't agree. Only Airbus has data [on the two engines] and to our knowledge they don't share it with anybody. Our engines were delivered to the Airbus specification on fuel burn, weight and noise etc."

The two rivals are engaged in head-to-head campaigns to win over the two remaining A380 customers that have yet to choose engines - Qatar Airways and Kingfisher - who between them account for 10 firm orders.

Source: Flight International