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Does engine choice matter?

Airbus famously snapped up around 1,000 A320neo orders before a competitor was even available, and since the 737 MAX’s launch in 2011 that sales lead has extended to close to 1,500 aircraft.

A clear market preference for the A321neo over the 737 MAX 9 has widened the gap, but many also believe that the

A320neo’s two engine options – the CFM LEAP-1A and PW1100G – are more attractive than the LEAP-1B-reliant 737 MAX.

Financiers appreciate the choice. Today (January 7) BOC Aviation took its A320neo backlog to 64 with an order for 18 more, and the lessor has already indicated that it will buy both engine variants.

Likewise, ACG, Aercap, Alafco, ALC and CIT Aerospace have all ordered LEAP and geared turbofan-powered A320neos.

Yet only one airline – Lufthansa – has done the same, according to website pdxlight.

The theory runs that customers like to hedge their bets with new technology and thus appreciate the choice the A320neo offers.

Commenting on Boeing’s share of the new narrowbody market, of which Airbus has 60 per cent, Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia tells ATE&M: “The biggest single concern is that we’ve never seen such a divergence in propulsion philosophy between the two competitors – the neo gives you a choice.”

Arguably, though, the risk-averse should favour LEAP over the PW1100G: CFM’s engine builds on established, proven technology; GE and Snecma (CFM’s joint venture partners) have an unsurpassed pedigree in high-volume turbofan production; and a vast, global support network and knowledge base is already in place for CFM engines.

Moreover, a lack of engine choice never harmed the CFM56-reliant 737-800, which was more popular with financiers than the CFM-and-IAE-powered A320ceo.

However, that affection hasn’t yet extended to the MAX, which by November 2016 (when pdxlight was last updated) had 509 firm orders from lessors versus 933 for the A320neo family.

A possible indication, then, of a shift in power priorities.

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