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July 12, 2024
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An article in Aviation International News quotes Robert Nuttal, Rolls Royce head of strategic marketing, as stating that “the numbers do not stack up” for re-engining programs on either the 737 or A320 families.  Of course, since Airbus rejected Rolls Royce and eliminated them from the running in their NEO contest, leaving Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G and CFM-International’s Leap-X as possible players, this may just be sour grapes and trying to prevent the elimination of virtually all Rolls Royce current revenue from narrow-body commercial aircraft.  Rolls Royce currently is a partner in the IAE V2500 engine, which along with CFM International provides engines for the current A320 family.  PW will go it alone with the GTF for Airbus, at the exclusion of IAE.

In the interview, Nuttal offered some pointed opinions about the re-engining programs. He indicated three reasons – “First, we don’t think it offers any significant net financial benefit to the industry.  Second, at the manufacturing level the program will be only half as long as a new engine program, so the returns are far less.  And third, if re-engining occurs, it delays an all-new aircraft, which will bring real benefits in terms of fuel economy and emissions.”

It seems airlines, who would appreciate an additional 10-12% reduction in fuel costs, would disagree.  Both Airbus and Boeing currently have major program overruns (A380/787) and would need to raise $15 billion each for a new narrow body program, while paying for existing programs and others on the drawing board (A350, 777 replacement), and the third seems a lament that it pushes out the time frame for their “game changing open rotor technology” even further into the future.

Translation: we’ve been shut out by our competition, and don’t have a snowball’s chance to compete until 2025 in the narrow-body arena.

He took a shot at the competition, stating that open rotors remain the only “game-changing” technology, with the potential to deliver at least 10% lower fuel burn than any advanced turbofan under consideration.  Of course, open rotor technology simply won’t fit on existing aircraft, and new aircraft will need to be designed specifically for that technology.

Pratt & Whitney disagree, indicating that changing the gear ration from 3:1 to 5:1 can generate the equivalent performance of an open rotor in a package that will fit a conventional airframe, and provide lower noise levels.

Bottom Line:  Rolls Royce has been outmaneuvered by its competition, PW and CFMI for narrow body propulsion in the short-term, and will likely lock up the market for another decade, leaving Rolls Royce shut out.   I’d classify the comments as sour grapes!

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