CF6-80 AFI-KLM E&M

GE CF6-80 Engine MRO Outlook Strong For A Few Years

The CF6-80’s longevity offers interesting MRO lessons

Printed headline: Widebody Hero 

Two of the big questions in commercial aviation today are “How long will low fuel prices continue?” and “What effect will they have on the longevity of mature equipment?” Only OPEC can answer the first question, but an analysis of the General Electric CF6-80 engine’s situation can provide a great deal of insight into the second.

This is because the GE engine first entered service in 1982 and is still flying on a wide array of senior and mid-life aircraft types. The 52,500-63,500-lb.-thrust CF6-80C2, for instance, is certified for the Boeing 747, 767 and MD-11 as well as the Airbus A300 and A310. Meanwhile, the 67,500-72,000-lb.-thrust CF6-80E1 has powered current engine options of the Airbus A330 family since 1994.

After a steady decline, the CF6-80C2 fleet stabilized in 2016, and 2,410 CF6-80C2 engines are in service, according to Aviation Week’s 2017 Commercial Aviation Fleet and MRO Forecast.

Most of those engines are flying on Boeing 767 and 747-400 widebodies, which might offer a dim prognosis, as some airlines are phasing out those types. Yet Aviation Week’s forecast data tells a different story, with usage of the CF6-80C2 projected to hold firm for at least a couple of years. Subsequently, a slow decline is predicted, with the global CF6-80C2 fleet forecast to shrink by 8% by 2021.

“Ultimately, CF6-80C2 engines will be retired as they are mature, but there are still opportunities and they are still part of some larger lessor lease pools,“ says Kane Ray, chief analyst for commercial engines at consultancy IBA.

 Aftermarket

Since most new widebody engines are sold with accompanying support contracts, mature powerplants are a key business segment for independent MRO providers. Still popular after 35 years, the CF6-80 is one of the best earners in that space.

High-pressure turbine blades are among the most in-demand CF6-80 parts. Credit: AFI-KLM EM

MTU Maintenance is the biggest player in the CF6-80C2 aftermarket behind the engine’s manufacturer, GE Aviation. The German company completed 80 shop visits in 2016, up from 60 in each of the two previous years, and it expects demand to remain at least as strong through 2017.

“We are seeing a revival in demand for our tailor-made CF6-80 services, due to low fuel prices and strong passenger demand slowing down the phase-out process,” says Katia Diebold-Widmer, head of marketing for MTU Maintenance.

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Many CF6-80s, especially those powering freighters, are making it to a second shop visit and beyond. Credit: AFI-KLM EM

However, she is hesitant to predict that overhaul demand will remain this strong into 2018. That certainly does not seem likely given Aviation Week’s forecast. Worth almost $1.5 billion this year, the CF6-80C2 maintenance market will shrink almost one-third to $1.1 billion in 2018, before rising slightly in the following three years, Aviation Week predicts.

It is difficult to forecast shop visits for older engines, which are often candidates for teardown or retirement. Still, Diebold-Widmer says many CF6-80s make it to two or more shop visits, with overhaul intervals ranging from 10,000 hr. for those in short-haul operations to 40,000 hr. for those in long-haul.

Unplanned shop visits can result from significant service bulletins or airworthiness directives—the most recent one came from the FAA last year to incorporate new thermal barrier-coated fire shields and improved sump fire protection.

Values and Parts

The CF6-80C2 still commands better values and lease rates than its competitor, Pratt and Whitney’s PW4000-94, which powers the same variety of aircraft. “CF6-80 LLPs with remaining flight cycles for a minimum of one complete engine run are in high demand,” says Diebold-Widmer.

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High-pressure turbine blades are among the most in-demand CF6-80 parts. Credit: AFI-KLM EM

High-pressure turbine blades are among the most prized CF6-80 parts, but sometimes it is hard to match supply to demand. This is partly because the CF6-80 fleet has stabilized, meaning fewer parked engines to pick apart, but even retired equipment can yield little if its life-limited parts are worn out.

An added complication has been the growing popularity of short-term and green-time leasing, in which the remaining cycles on an engine are burned off as an alternative to maintenance. MTU offers both, even though renting in short-term power is a tricky business.

“Experience has shown that it can suddenly become very difficult to locate the engine required, at the right configuration, time and price,” she says. If that remains the case, CF6-80 overhaul shops should be kept busy for some years to come. 

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