Rolls-Royce Trent engines program update at PNAA conference

Bill Boyd, senior vice president of Rolls-Royce, provided a program update of its Trent engines that are being developed for the Airbus A350 XWB. He appeared on a panel with GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney. He appeared at the 2014 Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference last week in the Seattle area.

Sound is soft; use of headphones is recommended.



Updating the A380: the prospect of a neo version and what’s involved

Recent headlines and this column report that Airbus is considering re-engining the popular A330 with GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN power plants. A New Engine Option and other changes would improve the A330’s economy by an estimated 10% percent after offsets for increased drag and weight.

But the A330 isn’t the only Airbus airplane being considered for new engines made popular by the A320neo family. Tim Clark, president and chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, urged Airbus to improve efficiency of the giant A380 with engine technology found in newer generation aircraft.

How feasible is an A380neo? What are the technological issues? Would there be enough of an economic gain? And is there a market for an A380neo?

The A380 of today

The A380 has been hailed as a highly efficient airliner since it went into service 2008, assuming the giant plane can be filled. But only six years later, the first voices have been raised that this will not continue to be the case should the continuous improvements that have been flowing into the airframe not pick up speed.

The launch of the Boeing 777X also brought focus on the state of the A380 come the latter part of this decade when the 777-9X enters flight testing in advance of its planned 2020 entry-into-service. Tim Clark expressed  that “it is time that the A380 gets an injection of the new technology which is now becoming available for the A320/737 in the form of GTF/LEAP and GE9X for the 777X. “

Before we look into what can be done short-to–mid-term to inject improved efficiency, let’s establish the baseline as it exists today. The A380 is considered by some the most efficient way of flying passengers between two long haul points if there is enough of demand. The competition today is the Boeing 777-300ER and 747-8i.  (Qantas Airways is dropping some A380 flights that have 50% load factors, demonstrating the aircraft is inefficient if the demand is insufficient.)

Let’s assume we want to transport passengers between San Francisco and Hong Kong, one of the longer flights which are made non-stop in both directions. Going West, it takes a Cathay 777-300ER 15 hours and going East, 12 hours, the difference being due to prevailing headwinds going West. For our check, we will use the more demanding of these legs, which then works out as the equivalent of flying 7,200nm. To compare the three different aircraft in a fair way, we need to load them to the same payload, in our case passengers with luggage. We will not consider cargo in this initial analysis. The leg chosen is not one which allows much weight for cargo, but cargo certainly belongs to a complete analysis of an airplane and we will point out where it will affect any conclusions.  

When comparing the standard three-class seating numbers between the OEMs, it is clear these are not made to the same standards of comfort. Airbus has admitted that the A380 is too lightly loaded at 525 passengers. The 777-300ER at nine abreast and 365 seats is equipped with a comfortable 18’’ economy class at 32’’ pitch but the business class is modeled with a non-standard 48’’ pitch. The 747-8i at 467 seats is not laid out to any comfort standards comparable to the other two. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison we have equipped all aircraft with the same three-class cabin with a standard seating consisting of first class at 81’’ pitch, business class at 60’’ pitch and economy class with 32’’ pitch. Seat widths are 37’’, 22’’ and 18’ respectively and the ratios of the different premium seatings vs. economy are kept the same. Here the aircraft are listed with the in-service year and with their respective payload capabilities:

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Air France A350 contract stalled; here’s the way forward

Bloomberg News has this report that the Air France-KLM talks for 25 Airbus A350s remain stalled over the long-running dispute between the company and Rolls-Royce over AF’s desire to overhaul the Trent XWB engines.

The Air France-KLM group offers its own maintenance, repair and overhaul services and wants the ability to provide MRO to others as well as perform the work itself.

Engine suppliers are loath to grant MRO rights to others. Engines are often sold at deep discounts, and in extreme cases, even given to airlines in exchange for the exclusive parts and MRO contracts. This is where the engine makers truly make their profits.

Rolls-Royce is known to be particularly hard-nosed in this regard.

So how will the log-jam be broken?

Rolls wants Air France to order the Trent 1000 for the 25 Boeing 787 orders announced last year. Given the long relationship between Air France and GE, the supplier on AF’s current fleet of a variety of aircraft, this will be a tough pill to swallow. But don’t count it out.

Odds and Ends: RR vs Air France; Kingfisher Airlines; Phuket

RR vs Air France: We’ve written about this before–Air France wants to maintain the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines on the Airbus A350s it wants to buy, but RR wants to maintain the engines. The dispute has been holding up confirming the order for a year. The Wall Street Journal has this update.

Kingfisher Airlines: The carrier continues its long spiral down. Lessors want airplanes back. The government is holding onto the airplanes in lieu of the airlines’ airport payments which are in default. ATR long ago canceled the orders it had with Kingfisher. Airbus is the other big loser.

Phuket: Emirates Airlines adds Phuket, Thailand, to its route network. We’ve always loved this name. But we’ve always wondered: is it pronounced with a soft U or a hard U? Fokker is a close runner-up.

Update, 1:30 PM PDT: One of the first images from Mars, courtesy of Mr. Sulu (George Takei on Facebook):

Odds and Ends: 787 ramp up, ISTAT, Airbus, the price of oil in 1968

787 Ramp-Up: UBS Securities issued a research note Monday in which it reports that the 787 rate ramp-up to 10 per month–a goal Boeing’s to be by the end of 2013–has slipped to the first quarter of 2014.

  • More from UBS: Supply chain ahead of Boeing: We believe the supply chain is still ahead of Boeing given significant rework and a high level of component deliveries in 2009-10, although a pick up is expected soon. We understand Boeing now plans to ramp from current 3.5/mo to 5/mo in Q4 (had been Q1), 7/mo in Q2 2013 (had been Q4 2012) and 10/mo in Q1 2014 (had been Q2 2013).

ISTAT: We’re at the annual ISTAT AGM in Phoenix and we’ll be reporting throughout the event odds and ends (adding to this post initially, separate posts later on). So come back often.


  • 40% of Airbus 2011 deliveries were via lessors: 115 through direct sale to lessors, 95 via lessor purchase-leaseback
  • Lessor sees overlapping production of 737 NG with MAX, A320neo with CEO due to limited availability of production slots because of massive early neo/MAX commitments.
  • Congressional targeting Ex-Im Bank financing is short-sighted; cutting funding will harm Boeing, GE, Pratt & Whitney.
  • Airbus has delivered 10 A330-200Fs, four operators now.
  • Undercurrent buzz about 737MAX. Watch for developments in the next weeks and months.
  • Airbus about to start final assembly line for A350.
  • Flight tests of Trent XWB going well.
  • Airbus now advertising A350-1000 at 369 passengers, up from 350.

From Twitter, via Phil LeBeau of CNBC: @Boeing says it has NOT changed its goal of building 10 Dreamliners per month by end of 2013.

Back to ISTAT:

  • A321neo gains 600nm, A320neo gains 500nm.
  • Average oil price 1968 non-inflation adjusted was $3.18bbl (that’s per barrel, not per gallon!).
  • Airbus sold 448 A320ceo since launch of neo.
  • Airbus competes 99% of the time against Boeing, not new entrants, for sales. Barriers to entry for a new aircraft type very high rather than changing fleet type.

Side trip to Ex-Im:

Take a read of this column on the Ex-Im Bank financing controversy.

Back to ISTAT:


  • Mike Bair: We are in a march to put Airbus out of business in the twin-aisle space: 777 vs A340, 787 vs A330, 747-8 vs A380.
  • 787-10 will have  50% lower operating costs than A340-600, Boeing’s Bair claims.
  • 747-8I has turned out to be the darling of billionaires who have too much money–Bair.
  • New revenue opportunities for long, thin routes validate the 787 like San Diego to Japan. Opening new markets and opportunities for customers.
  • Boeing uses 162 seats in 737-800/8 vs A320ceo/neo 150 seat comparisons; Airbus uses 157 seats for the Boeing.
  • Every engine/airframe combination has a sweet spot, a bucket’s flat area with 3-4 inches of fan diameter. In MAX’s case, this means the 68.4  inch fan is the sweet spot.
  • Our intent is to build the MAX until the market decides it doesn’t want it any more.

Odds and Ends: Airworthiness Directives and sloppy headline writing

Airworthiness Directives: The New York Times has a good piece about ADs that should put many general assignment reporters to shame. The rhubarb over the ADs applied to the Airbus A380 spurred Nicola Clark’s reporting. This is a must-read not only for the general public to actually understand what’s going on in the world of aviation, it’s a must-read for the hysterical headline-writers who seem more interested in page hits than in facts.

787 Surge Line starts in June: Boeing’s 787 Surge Line begins operation in June. This is the line in Everett that is being created as risk mitigation for the new line in Charleston as the workforce there comes up on the learning curve. The two lines are intended to have a capacity of three per month, while Line 1 in Everett has a capacity of seven per month.

The Surge Line is supposed to terminate in May 2014, according to internal Boeing documents obtained by the IAM 751 in the now-defunct NLRB case. But we hope, and believe, the Surge Line could become a long-term line as Boeing considers ways to go beyond the 10/mo production rate goal by the end of 2013. We believe Boeing has to significantly go beyond this rate to catch up from delays that are hitting four years for some customers, as well as to open up slots for demand.

Rolls-Royce and the Trent XWB: Flight Global has a long article about RR’s engine development for the Airbus A350.

Dark Clouds over Asia: Aspire Aviation has a long piece about Asian airlines that are struggling. Asia has been a bright spot for Boeing and Airbus orders. Perhaps the bubble is about to burst.

Larger engine, longer range A350-1000 to be announced at Paris Air Show

Airbus and Rolls-Royce have agreed to up-size the Trent XWB engine powering the A350-1000, which will add about 500nm of range, Leeham News has learned.

The formal announcements have been planned for the Paris Air Show. Airbus issued a “no comment” to our inquiry and Rolls-Royce did not return calls.

Emirates Airlines CEO Tim Clark has been urging Airbus to add power to the airplane and enlarge it to 380 passengers in three-classes and add range to allow non-stop service from Dubai to Los Angeles. Qatar Airways and Korean Airlines have also encouraged Airbus to enlarge the airplane.

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Focus on Rolls-Royce Trent engines

Plane Talking has an interesting think piece about the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine that powers the Qantas Airbus A380.

As readers know, a Trent 900 had an uncontained failure on QF32 that severely damaged the A380. Qantas still hasn’t returned the A380 fleet to full service while questions about the Trent 900 remain unresolved.

Rolls-Royce has been uncommunicative to Qantas, and to Airbus, according to both companies, adding difficulties to the recovery of the program.

This portends something that has greater implications.

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