As the aviation world waits for Airbus to decide whether it will re-engine the Airbus A320 family with (as expected) the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan and the CFM International Leap-X, little thought has been given to the advantage PW will have with its GTF.
There has been plenty of debate whether the GTF technology or the more traditional Leap-X approach is the better answer. Engineers and pundits will be arguing about this until there are years of service and experience from which to draw definitive conclusions. And this is where PW will have an advantage.
The GTF, of course, is scheduled to go into service in 2013 with the Bombardier CSeries CS100 and the following year with the CS300; and 2014 for the Mitsubishi MRJ. Although these versions of the GTF are substantially smaller than what is required for the A320-class of airplane (17,000 lbs of thrust for the MRJ, 24,000 for the CS100/300 and 35,000 for the A320), the fundamental engines are the same, all the way to and including the ability to grow to 40,000 lbs, or Boeing 757-sized aircraft.
CFM’s Leap-X is to enter flight testing on the Comac C919 150-seat aircraft in 2014, with a projected EIS of 2016—if the Chinese, with their first mainline, indigenous jet, are on-time, and we’ve all seen what’s happened with new airplane programs in recent years. (The same caveat, of course, must be applied to the CSeries and MRJ.)
Let’s assume that Bombardier and Mitsubishi are on time and so is Comac and Airbus, which projects a 2015 or 2016 EIS for the A320 NEO family.
PW will have two or three years of service under its belt to get operational experience and to debug any issues that come up during the early CSeries/MRJ time. The Leap-X won’t have this experience—just test-bed experience and, if all goes well, Comac’s two years of pre-certification testing and pre-EIS flights of its C919. As good as test programs are in ferreting out problems, nothing does so like airline scheduled service. And this is where PW’s GTF will have a huge advantage for the A320 NEO.
Airbus’ John Leahy, COO-Customers, says he is comfortable with the GTF testing on the A340-600 test bed, both for performance and maintenance considerations. This is, obviously, more than he can say about the Leap-X because of the early nature of this program. Advantage, once again, to PW.
There is no doubt that CFM will produce a fine, reliable engine. But it will be coming from behind.
And that’s just the way it is.