Printed headline: Regional Adapter
The only engine manufacturer with a commanding presence in all categories of aircraft is GE Aviation: The GEnx and GE90 are the market leaders on their respective widebody platforms, the narrowbody-focused CFM56 is the most successful engine ever built, and the CF34 is the biggest seller in the regional jet market while also being a popular option for business jets.
Entering service in 1992 on the 50-seat Bombardier CRJ100, the CF34-3A was the first of a versatile family of engines that steadily increased in size and capability as they adapted to the changing demands of the regional jet market. When the 100-seat Embraer 190 started operations in 2004, it was powered by the CF34-10E, an engine almost 50% longer and with twice the thrust of its original ancestor. In between are the -8C and -8E lines, which power the Bombardier CRJ-700/800/900 and Embraer 170/175 families, respectively, while China’s ARJ21 jet uses the -10C.
The CF34 is still in production, but because different engines power the newest generation of regional jets, its in-service numbers will peak soon. Aviation Week’s Fleet & MRO Forecast expects the CF34 fleet to top out at 6,118 engines in 2021, compared with 5,976 today, while annual retirements will accelerate from 36 in 2019 to 286 in 2023.
The numbers hide considerable variation between the various CF34 iterations. The original -3A is almost extinct, but there are still more than 1,000 -3Bs powering business jets and older-generation regional aircraft. However, over the next five years the -3B will be retired in greater numbers than other CF34 types, closely followed by the E170/175’s -8E, although, at the same time, this type will also account for the most new-engine CF34 deliveries. Even so, the CRJ’s -8C will remain the most numerous CF34 over the next five years, with Aviation Week predicting about 1,800 in service in 2023.
The CF34 maintenance market will be worth a little more than $1 billion in 2019, and Aviation Week predicts that this will rise to $1.25 billion in 2023. Again, though, demand will vary across engine types. Annual shop visits for the -8E, for example, are predicted to rise steadily from 160 in 2019 to 294 in 2023, while demand for the -8C will spike in 2020 at 396 events and then decline to 236 by 2023.
“Over the next five years, we expect shop visits for the CF34-3 to decline steadily worldwide,” says Thomas Needham, vice president for programs and sales for MTU Maintenance. “However, we expect shop visits to peak for the CF34-8 and -10 in the next couple of years and remain steady well into the ’20s.”
To cope with this demand, MTU has invested $33 million into a new logistics center in its Berlin-Brandenburg facility, which should increase the site’s capacity by 30%.
Needham adds that the CF34 market is “very competitive,” with most shops at full capacity despite a deep and diverse maintenance network. “GE operates an open aftermarket policy, and there are OEM as well as independent MRO providers. . . . We believe this is best for customers, as it keeps providers on their toes and continually optimizing services and results in the most competitive services,” he says.
Replacement intervals for life-limited parts (LLP) have been extended with each new iteration of the engine, from about 18,000 cycles for the -3 to 22,400 cycles for the -8, to 26,000 for the -10. “LLP limits for modern engines have been extended in such a way that some engines may only need LLP replacement at the second or third shop visit,” notes Needham.
If not to replace LLPs, CF34 shop visits are generally performed on-condition, in line with most modern engine maintenance practice, although MTU reports that it is implementing a high-pressure turbine service bulletin that will cause some engines to come in soon after their last shop visit. During performance restorations, workscopes will vary by customer, but common repairs include those to the high-pressure turbine and combustor.
“Timing on-condition shop visits to achieve maximum value and minimized costs is a balancing act—and more of an economical issue than a technical one,” says Needham.
With the CF34 entering maturity across many platforms, questions of economy become more pressing. Operators do not want to invest too much on overhauling equipment with limited remaining service life, so alternative options such as used serviceable material and green-time leasing become more attractive. Accordingly, these are set to be increasingly important features of the CF34 maintenance market going forward.