GE CEO’s Jet Engine Prediction and Safran Trash Boeing
Back in April, Boeing (NYSE: BA) CEO Dave Calhoun made a bold prediction. After noting that most new aircraft models have been designed around new engines that are 15-20% more efficient than the ones they replace, he said: âI don’t believe the next generation of engines can deliver that kind of performance. ” He concluded that the new aircraft designs from Boeing and Airbus (OTC: EADSY) will differentiate itself primarily through innovative engineering and manufacturing processes that can reduce costs.
Best Engine Manufacturer General Electric (NYSE: GE) and his partner Saffron (OTC: SAFRY) to disagree. On Monday, their CFM joint venture revealed plans for a new engine program that could deliver more than 20 percent fuel efficiency improvement over its current family of LEAP engines.
In search of significant energy efficiency gains
The global aviation industry has an official target of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. To meet this commitment, even as global air transport volumes continue to grow, future aircraft will need to have emissions. 90% lower than those of the current fleet, to Safran CEO Olivier Andries. Switching to sustainable fuels could significantly reduce carbon emissions over time, but engines will also need to become much more efficient.
The CFM RISE program aims to address this need for the largest and fastest growing segment of the global airline industry: narrow-body aircraft. This involves the deployment of a multitude of new technologies to reduce fuel consumption, including advanced materials and new additive manufacturing techniques.
The most notable feature of the RISE program is that CFM will develop what it calls an open fan architecture. Current jet engines are housed inside protective housings called nacelles. The nacelle removal represents the biggest opportunity to improve fuel efficiency, putting within reach of CFM’s goal of more than 20% fuel efficiency improvement over current engines. (This design choice makes the CFM RISE concept look more like a turboprop than a traditional turbojet.)
Historically, motor noise and safety have been two key barriers to adopting an open fan architecture. GE Aviation CEO John Slattery says technological improvements will make the RISE engine no louder than today’s advanced CFM LEAP engines. More importantly, the use of carbon composites to fabricate the engine blades eliminates the risk of metal fatigue causing dangerous blade failures.
To enhance the sustainability potential of the RISE program, CFM will also integrate hybrid electric capabilities and design the engines to be fully compatible with sustainable aviation fuel and hydrogen.
A timeline that works for Airbus
GE and Safran plan to start testing a demonstration engine for CFM’s RISE program by the middle of the current decade. Flight tests would begin shortly thereafter. However, maturing the technology and certifying new engines will take much longer. CFM predicts that engines developed under the RISE program could enter service in the mid-2030s.
So Calhoun’s prediction that jet engines won’t become much more efficient will likely prove out of base. But the next leap in engine technology might not come soon enough for Boeing.
At present, Airbus has a huge advantage over Boeing in the narrow-body aircraft market. Its A220 is much more efficient than the smaller 737 MAX. Meanwhile, the A321neo and its longer-range variants can fly farther and perform better than the larger 737 MAX jets. As a result, Airbus has accumulated a firm order book of more than 6,100 orders for narrow-body aircraft. Boeing’s competing 737 MAX family has less than 3,300 firm orders in its backlog.
Boeing’s best bet to counter the advantages of Airbus would be to launch a whole new family of narrow-body planes as soon as possible. However, if it brings a new product to market before 2035, the CFM RISE engines will not yet be ready. This would give Airbus an opening to the best Boeing on narrow-body jet performance while waiting a few more years for the next-gen engines.
A solid roadmap
Today, CFM dominates the market for small narrow body engines. CFM LEAP engines are fitted to all Boeing 737 MAXs and nearly 60% of Airbus A320neo. LEAP will also power the COMAC C919: a Chinese-made narrow-body aircraft expected to enter service within the next year.
The RISE program gives CFM a good chance to deliver the performance improvements that could allow it to maintain its dominant market share in narrow-body jets for decades to come. Given the long-term growth of this market segment and the lucrative nature of jet engine sales and service, CFM remains well positioned to generate strong long-term profit growth for GE and Safran.
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