Air China is negotiating with Rolls-Royce to set up a Trent 1000 overhaul shop that would serve all Chinese users of the engine, raising the possibility that the carrier is close to placing a second order for the aircraft that the turbofan powers, the Boeing 787.
As part of the deal, Air China would buy Trent 1000s for 15 787-9s that it already has on order, say two industry officials.
The talks are probably close to conclusion because Air China’s 787-9 deliveries may begin as early as 2015; an engine selection is needed soon. Air China ordered the aircraft in 2005 as 787-8s and chose Trent 1000 engines the next year. The carrier took advantage of the 787’s program delays to switch to the more capable 787-9 in 2010, at which point the engine competition appears to have reopened.
Unlike General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce routinely directs overhauls of its civil engines to companies in which it has a major shareholding, typically in partnership with maintenance affiliates of airlines that buy large volumes of the subject powerplant type. The 30 or so engines needed for 15 787s are not many, so Air China’s talks for an engine maintenance facility suggest that the carrier is close to placing a further order for the Boeing aircraft. China will this year announce orders for many hundreds of airliners for delivery in its 2016-20 planning period, industry officials expect.
The Trent 700 is overhauled in Hong Kong by Haesl, which is partly owned by Rolls-Royce and Haeco, the maintenance affiliate of Cathay Pacific. As an example of the scale of orders that draws a Rolls-Royce maintenance facility, Cathay and subsidiary Dragonair have 57 A330s with Trent 700s in service.
Haesl has benefited from the great success of the Trent 700 in the Chinese market over the past decade, with major mainland carriers sending their A330 engines to the company. Not so large an external Trent 1000 market is assured for Air China, however. China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines have chosen the General Electric GEnx for their 787s, while China Eastern Airlines does not have an order for the aircraft.
Air China’s three main bases at Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen are obvious candidate locations for the engine overhaul shop. But a city or provincial government elsewhere could well be interested in providing incentives to attract such an operation.