It’s been an exciting year for commercial aero-engines, with new-generation turbofans entering service and subtle, but important shifts in the aftermarket taking hold.
CFM’s LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G grabbed most of the headlines as they began passenger service on the A320neo, though sometimes for the wrong reasons in the case of the geared turbofan. Now all eyes are Pratt & Whitney to see if it can meet aggressive production targets.
And while Pratt’s engine stands alone for its radical architecture, CFM has pursued innovation in different ways, notably by debuting new materials such as ceramic matrix composites inside the LEAP. GE’s next generation of widebody engines are likely to benefit.
Yet one shouldn’t ignore the current generation of engines, for some of which global fleet numbers and maintenance demand will only peak in the mid-2020s.
Dealing with these and even older engines is of key importance to the aftermarket, and there has been increasing recognition from manufacturers that operators of mature equipment must receive more choice than full-service, cost-per-flight-hour maintenance deals.
Meanwhile, large independent MRO providers have pursued partnerships with the OEMs to secure work on new engine platforms and drive volumes for mid-life equipment.
Nonetheless, that co-operation is still tempered by traditional gripes such as the ever-escalating price of life-limited parts, which on some platforms have been rising 7% per year for a decade.
To mitigate, many MROs are turning to used serviceable material and in-house repairs – sometimes even in-sourcing work that had been pushed out to Asia many years ago.
Digital technology is also helping, as OEMs, airlines and maintenance companies use data analytics to spot and resolve potentially serious problems before they occur, in a bid to avoid a dreaded unplanned engine removal.
Of course, unscheduled, off-wing repairs will never be eliminated, so spare engines will always be needed. Quite how many, though, is an interesting question as scheduled maintenance intervals (for which spares also provide cover) lengthen with new, hardier technology.
For feature-length discussions of all these hot issues and more, pick up a copy of Engine Yearbook 2017, out next week.