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A380 Engine Reliability High But Spare Parts Risk Arises

Engine Alliance GP7200 engines power 60% of the A380 fleet and will generate $4.2 billion in MRO spending over the next decade.

Aviation Week’s 2017 Commercial Forecast projects maintenance spending on the Airbus A380’s Engine Alliance (EA) GP7200s will total nearly $4.2 billion in 2016 dollars for about about 800 MRO events in 2017-26.

By the end of September 2016, 118 A380s were powered by variants of the GP7200, representing 60% of the fleet. GP7200s had accumulated more than 6.6 million flight hours and 867,000 cycles.

EA CEO Dean Athans says the GP7200 has been quieter, by 0.8 Effective Perceived Noise dB, than the competing Rolls-Royce Trent 900. He reports dispatch reliability of 99.3% despite many short flights in hot, sandy environments. He notes the engine saves up to $500,000 per A380 per year on an average route and has a payload-range advantage worth up to 22 passengers on long-haul routes.

Air France’s GP7200 engine

Athans estimates the GP7200, with high-pressure turbine upgrades introduced in June 2014, can operate 3,500 cycles before its first shop visit. This estimate was validated by testing in May 2015. Upgrades have improved time-on-wing and average $100,000 in fuel savings per aircraft-year, according the joint venture between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. Targeted mean time to the first shop visit is around 2,500 cycles, without the high-pressure turbine upgrades. Joseph Martin-Ginolhac, EA engine manager at Air France Industries-KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI-KLM E&M), expects time-on-wing of 2,500-3,000 cycles until the first shop visit, depending on the high-pressure-turbine configuration. 

Its network shops are targeting 80-90-day turnarounds for a typical first shop visit in 2017. Athans says operators and EA have adequate spares for the GP7200, and the company will build three spares in 2017. Customers have spare fans and propulsors, which together make up reserve engines. Airlines need fewer fans than propulsors, and propulsors require less space and are easier to transport. EA also maintains a pool of fans and propulsors.

GP7200s can be overhauled at GE Wales in Cardiff, AFI in Paris and Emirates’ Engine Maintenance Center in Dubai. Pratt & Whitney Eagle Services Asia in Singapore is developing MRO capacity for the GP7200.

Martin-Ginolhac says Air France’s GP7200s are performing well, with a rate of inflight shutdowns of 0.001 per 1,000 flight hours, aborted take-offs at 0.0016 per 1,000 departures and dispatch reliability at 99.91%. 

On-wing maintenance for the GP7200 has been substantial with many inspections, such as those for Nozzle Guide Vane 2s, as well as borescope checks required under an airworthiness directive. Other required inspections are on high-pressure compressors, low-pressure turbines, borescopes for design issues on Disk 6 and mandatory high-pressure case checks for life extension. Air France needs four inspections per week for its 10 A380s. There are also modifications on sensors, fuel pumps, starters and deflectors.

On Nov. 1, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive 2016-22-11, which superseded ADs for GP7270s and GP7277s with certain high-pressure-turbine Stage 2 nozzle segments. Inspections are required and, if burn holes are detected in nozzle segments, affected nozzles and other parts must be removed. The new AD was effective Nov. 16. The FAA estimates inspections require 2 hr. per engine and that parts could cost $500,000 for each powerplant

Unscheduled removals sometimes have altered this interval due to baffle-plate failure, crack indications for the low-pressure turbine shaft and the condition of the high-pressure compressors.

A full shop visit takes 90 days, and AFI-KLM E&M can conduct up to 10 per year. Air France has enough spares and EA enough lease engines to support overhauls now. But Martin-Ginolhac worries that the end of new GP7200 production will put availability of sufficient spare parts at risk in the long run. “For the future, provisioning of parts will be a key issue.”

Predicting the timing of MRO is tricky. Using utilization rates and standard intervals between events, Aviation Week’s Commercial Forecast estimates GP7200 maintenance events ranging from hot-section inspections to full overhauls at 72 in 2017, a low of 16 in 2018, a ramp-up to 136 in 2023 from 80 in 2019, before dipping back to 72 in 2024. Expected events in the last years of the decade will be 104 in 2025 and 60 in 2026.

Maintenance spending forecasts follow the same pattern, starting at more than $300 million in 2017, dropping sharply in 2018, then recovering to nearly $400 million in the next several years.

But EA’s Athans forsees no dip in 2018 but rather a steady increase in maintenance spending over the next 10 years. EA works with airlines to stagger shop visits to avoid a bow wave and has pulled some GP7200s without upgrades to conduct proactive maintenance and upgrade them. 

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