Jet engine makers battle over performance

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Published June 16, 2013

| Reuters

Engine makers for next-generation Airbus and Boeing narrow-body jets stepped up their war of words on Sunday, claiming their new power plants will burn less fuel than current models plus last longer without maintenance and create less noise than their rival's.

CFM International, the engine maker for about three-quarters of the orders for next-generation Airbus and Boeing narrow-body jets, said its LEAP engine will deliver 15 percent lower fuel burn and 2 percent to 3 percent lower operating costs compared with comparable current engines.

Rival Pratt & Whitney hit back, saying its geared turbofan engine has undergone testing on aircraft, giving its claims of 15 percent lower fuel burn over current engines much more credibility. CFM has test parts but not a full engine.

"We are within 10ths of a percent of that (15 percent) figure," Robert Saia, vice president of the next generation product family at Pratt & Whitney, said in an interview with Reuters.

Pratt noted that it has won more than half of the orders for new engines on the A320neo family, including 75 percent of A321 orders, and vowed to maintain the lead after orders are tallied at the Paris Air Show that begins on Monday. CFM dominates orders for the smaller A319 jet.

There are about 925 orders for A320 family jets for which customers have not yet selected an engine.

"Quite a few of those will be out of limbo when this air show is done," said Todd Kallman, president of commercial engines at Pratt & Whitney. "We may be a little bit higher on market share when the show is over."

Narrow-body planes are a crucial market, accounting for 70 percent of an estimated $4.8 trillion in new aircraft sales over the next 20 years.

CFM is a joint venture of GE Aviation and Safran SA of France. Pratt & Whitney is a unit of United Technologies Corp.

The two engine makers are battling over which will power more of the next-generation narrow-body jets.

Since the LEAP engine is the only choice on Boeing's 737MAX, that leaves the A320neo as the battlefield for claims and counter-claims in sales campaigns. Pratt says staying off the low-to-ground 737 allowed it to optimize for the A320 and use larger front fans.

The A320neo next-generation jet is due to enter service in 2016, with Boeing's rival following a year later. The Airbus plane has 2,068 firm orders, compared with Boeing's 1,381.

FUEL SAVINGS

CFM says its LEAP engine will burn up to 15 percent less fuel than today's best comparable engines. It also says the LEAP will burn 1 percent less fuel on the A320 than the Pratt engine when new and that its performance won't erode over its life as it claims Pratt's will, giving it another 1 percent advantage. CFM says its engine's architecture better protect airfoils inside from being damaged by sand and debris that degrade performance.

On the A321neo, a larger version of the A320, CFM says its engine will supply a 3 percent advantage because of fuel savings on the plane's longer missions.

The savings amount to about $4 million a year per airplane in reduced fuel and operations costs, CFM said. Similar savings apply to the 737MAX, but there is no competing engine on that plane since Boeing chose to offer only the LEAP to customers.

Pratt & Whitney says its geared turbo fan engine is shorter and lighter than the LEAP. It also will require less maintenance, create less noise and incur lower emissions fees, generating $1.5 million in annual savings per aircraft.

Pratt notes its engine is on five aircraft: the Bombardier CSeries, which is due to fly for the first time by the end of the month, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the A320neo, the Russian Irkut MC21 and the Embraer second generation EJet. CFM says with the A320 and Boeing orders, it will be producing 1,700 engines a year by 2020. That compares with more than 1,000 a year by Pratt by the same date.

There have been suggestions that CFM isn't working hard to sell its LEAP on the 737MAX because it has no competition. The company said that isn't true. "We're obligated to compete on the MAX and the neo, and we go to every campaign," Chaker Chahrour, executive vice president of CFM, said at a briefing.

The ultimate arbiters, the airlines, must choose between competing claims for equipment designed to last 10 years before needing a major overhaul.

Both engine makers face are to some extent victims of their success.

Like makers of shaving razors, their business model is to offer engines relatively cheaply and make the money back on spare parts as engines are overhauled.

But high reliability that has become industry standard is hampering that spare-part business. CFM said that CFM56 engines delivered nearly a decade ago were due to come in after six years but are just now coming in for service. The revenue is thus arriving later than predicted and a "bow wave" hasn't materialized in the way it was expected.

"We have a pretty substantial population of engines that are at around 40,000 hours" before their first shop visit, CFM spokeswoman Jamie Jewell said. In one case, an engine stayed on the wing 14 years before coming in for its first major repairs.

While that affects CFM's revenue, it is doubtless appealing to airlines.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Tim Hepher; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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