Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Partners gear up for engine research

GE, Snecma: New planning for airlines aimed toward 2012

By Mike Boyer
Enquirer staff writer

PEEBLES, Ohio - Even as they're recovering from the worst recession in airline history, engine partners GE Transportation and Snecma Moteurs of France are beginning to think about requirements for their next new engine sometime after 2012.

CFM International, the partnership of GE and Snecma, which is marking its 30th anniversary, "needs to start doing research and development now" to be ready for new aircraft requirements in 2012 and beyond, said William Clapper, CFM executive vice president.

"Within the next six months, we'll begin defining the next technology program over the next three to five years for a new engine," he told trade press gathered for the partnership's annual media briefing at GE's engine test facility on a 7,000-acre nature preserve in southern Ohio.

Although it's too early to talk about potential airline demand or engine configurations, CFM officials said the partnership envisions a new engine will be in the same 20,000- to 30,000-pound takeoff thrust range of its current engines.

Those engines power the majority of the world's narrow body twinjets, including all next-generation Boeing 737s and most of the Airbus A320 family.

Eight years from now, CFM expects airlines will want engine operating costs that are at least 12 percent lower than its current engines; maintenance costs 25 percent below today's levels; and engines capable of up to eight years of service before the first required shop visit.

Noise and emissions requirements also will be dramatically lower than CFM's best technology today.

New orders announced

During Monday's briefing, CFM announced a $130 million order from CSA Czech Airlines for engines to power 12 Airbus A320 family jets and a $66 million order for CFM56-3 engine upgrade kits from Southwest Airlines.

Pierre Fabre, CFM president, said one of the reasons the partnership anticipates demand for a new engine around 2012 is that the market for single-aisle aircraft exploded between 1997-2001 and the next aircraft replacement cycle will begin building in eight years.

"We think the next boom in the market will be in the 2012-2013 period," he said.

Although the financial problems of legacy carriers such as Delta Air Lines and United Airlines get most of the media attention, passenger traffic and profitability are improving among low-cost carriers around the world and airlines in general in markets such as China and India, he said.

So far this year, Fabre said CFM, which assembles engines in Evendale and in Villaroche, France, has delivered 400 engines and expects the year-end total deliveries will be around 600, based on aircraft makers' negotiations with carriers.

Next year, he said, estimates of deliveries approaching 1,000 engines are "reasonable."

GE engineers busy

More CFM research means more work for GE engineers in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky already involved in designing the GEnx, replacement for GE's CF6 engines.

Still, forecasting the future of the cyclical aviation business can be tricky.

Six years ago, CFM embarked on a technology development effort known as TECH56 to prepare for a next-generation engine. But when the airlines weren't interested in a new engine, CFM began deploying the technology to customers in the form of upgrades and kits to improve the performance of airlines' existing engines.

CFM Monday said it was launching an upgrade effort called Tech Insertion for its latest engine models by early 2007.

E-mail mboyer@enquirer.com

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