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May 30, 2024
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Rolls-Royce is facing major challenges in the future, including being shut out of the single-aisle engine market.

In a syndicated article picked up today by the India Times (the original ran about two weeks ago out of London), the dilemma facing Rolls is well laid out.

The last purely Rolls single-aisle engine to be produced was for the Boeing 757. The V2500 engine for the A320 family is a joint venture with Rolls, Pratt & Whitney, MTU and a Japanese company through International Aero Engines (IAE). Rolls also produced the engine for the Boeing 717, nee MD-95 of McDonnell Douglas, in a JV with BMW, an unsuccessful venture that ended when Boeing discontinued the 717 following the merger with MDC. Rolls also built the Tay engine used on the Fokker 100 and the re-engine of the 727-100 for express carrier UPS.

Rolls has been developing the RB282 and RB285, the former for the corporate world and the latter intended to the Boeing 737/A320 class aircraft. The RB285 is a traditional three-stage engine that has generated no interest so far from the manufacturers.

During the studies for re-engining the A320 and 737, Airbus and Boeing looked at the RB285, CFM Leap-X and PW P1000G Geared Turbo Fan (GTF). Boeing, in an exclusive supplier contract with CFM for the 737, seriously considered the GTF and Leap-X and while it also talked with Rolls, said little about the prospects for the RB285. The exclusive supplier contract pretty well eliminated the GTF from a re-engine consideration.

Airbus, on the other hand, was more open about the consideration of the RB285, including when the engine was ruled out in the re-engining studies. At the Airbus Innovation Days in May, Tom Williams—EVP of programs—confirmed rumors that had begun to swirl in April that Rolls had been eliminated from the New Engine Option (NEO) studies. The RB285 had a fuel burn that was 2%-3% higher than the GTF or Leap-X, Williams told me, and there were commercial issues as well.

It was only the next month that Rolls publicly began dissing the case for re-engine programs, asserting the “business case” wasn’t there for the RE and that a new airplane made more sense. Having been already eliminated from RE consideration, one can drawn conclusions about any cause-and-effect.

Rolls, with only the V2500 in the single-aisle airplane category, has also been waging a negative campaign against PW’s GTF. Faced with the prospect of a competing engine with the V2500 if NEO proceeds, and no interest in the RB285, such a campaign is not surprising. But the GTF has been selected by Mitsubishi, Bombardier and Irkut and will, along with the Leap-X, be put on the NEO should this program proceed. Despite Rolls’ negative campaign, these selections certainly validate the GTF while the RB285 languishes.

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