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.

As readers also know, the QF32 incident was preceded by an uncontained failure on a test stand of a Trent 1000. The Trent 1000 powers the 787. RR insists the incidents are unrelated, but both had to do with oil leaks, fires and explosions. There may have been no systemic design failure connection, as RR claims, but by being less than forthright, one cannot help but wonder if there is.

We talked with an engineer a few months ago who isn’t involved in either incident but who knows RR. His view is that in looking at the Trent 1000 and Trent 900 incidents, focus on the design is actually looking in the wrong direction. Rather, the system issues at RR, this engineer tells us, are in the culture that are leading to the performance failures.

This leads to the development of the Trent XWB for the A350 currently underway. If there are indeed design issues common to the Trent 900 and Trent 1000–despite RR statements to the contrary (and we don’t know if there are or aren’t, but remain skeptical given the absence of clarity from RR)–will these filter over to the Trent XWB?

Regardless of this question, the larger one of systemic cultural issues certainly puts risk into the Trent XWB development. Additionally, we believe Boeing is right that the Trent XWB isn’t big enough to provide the promised performance for the A350-1000, and RR will likely have to do more than is currently planned.

Given the delays in the A380 and 787 programs, and the deferrals of huge cash flow to the supply chain–including, of course, RR–and the development of the Trent XWB, RB282/285 and the open rotor, RR’s cash flow is clearly under pressure, to put it mildly. This frankly leads us to be concerned about the company’s ability to get the job done on these programs.

Rolls-Royce is major cause for concern these days on the A380, 787 and A350 programs. If we were Airbus, we’d be deeply concerned about the potential impact on the A350 and would strive for a second engine source. GE’s GEnx is big enough for the A350-800/900, and GE originally was going to power the A350’s original design. But GE will not power the A350-1000 due to contractual obligations to Boeing to exclusively power the 777-300 in this class of airplane.

Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan has the ability to grow to 110,000 lbs thrust, but PW’s parent, United Technologies, says it will be a decade before such an engine will be available. Boeing is interested in this engine for a 777 replacement.

Whether PW could accelerate the development of a 110k is unknown but it is probably certain doing so by the promised 2015 EIS of the A350-1000 is unlikely.

Airbus has real cause for concern about RR and the Trent XWB. We simply are unable to gauge how deep this concern is or should be.

27 Comments on “Focus on Rolls-Royce Trent engines

  1. To my eye Qantas closed the door to RR by sending lawyers for a technical problem.

    The nice thing about a connected Trent family problem is that it promises a one stop solution. ( or none, but I don’t think that will happen. )

  2. Even though I’m on the “left” side of the pond, I like the RR engine’s over the GE’s and P&W’s (love the triple-spool design system and love the sound of RR engines).

    I really hope RR gets their house in order….it would be a shame that we would see delays/cancellations due to engine problems/delays. In fact, I think this situation is so serious, it might cause Rolls Royce to file for bankruptcy…IMHO.

    There are over 200 B787 orders with the RR-Trents and over 570XWB orders…that puts it over a whopping 1,500 engines just on those to planes alone.

    RR cannot afford to screw this up.

    As mentioned, I also believe this will hurt Airbus more than Boeing.

  3. Quite sure the legal ramifications are the reason behind the seeming lack of news from RR.
    Their insurance company will have told the to “shut-up” in no uncertain way.
    Meanwhile the Trent XWB ran for the first time pretty well on schedule, so lets wait and see.

  4. Shouldn’t there also be concerns about the RR engines on the 747-8?

    That program is already suffering because of a serious lack of orders since it was launched several years ago and if there is an additional problem with it’s engines, which are also on the 787, that would only aggravate the situation even more for the 747-8 and Boeing!

    Fortunately, both the 777 and the 737 programs are turning into
    real money making machines, which hopefully will cover the losses incurred on the the 787 and 747-8 programs so far!

  5. Rudy Hillinga :
    Fortunately, both the 777 and the 737 programs are turning into
    real money making machines, which hopefully will cover the losses incurred on the the 787 and 747-8 programs so far!

    just read about the Boeing production numbers for 2010:
    737 up by 4 (+1%) to 376
    777 down by 14 (-19%) to 74

    Just regular fluctuation for 777?

    • With Boeing possibly ramping up production for the B777, I think we’ll see that end improve.

  6. Certainly, if airline customers start having cold feet about Trent engines that will have a bad effect on the whole A350 program. But unusually, I think things may be better than they look. Point by point:

    – Plane Talking spreads hypothetical blame liberally (“It’s easy to imagine …”), but little that’s concrete can be laid at RR’s door. So far the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has only identified a manufacturing fault with the Qantas plane but no issue with the design.

    – You expect tests to throw up unexpected results from time to time. An engine in development blew up under extreme conditions in testing, but you can’t infer than a different model in production will blow up in normal use. RR have said the two events aren’t linked. In the absence of other information, there’s no reason to believe they are lying.

    – 787 delays will be a concern for cash flow. RR is quite a profitable and rich company though. It should survive the battering unless things get really dire.

    – Systemic cultural issues. Agree with this. RR outsources to a heavy extent and it may be experiencing 787 style issues. The mis-bored pipe is very worrying.

    – RR are totally hamfisted on their PR. A lot of the noise about RR comes from other companies with an agenda – in particular Boeing and Qantas – who find it easy to score into the goal that RR has left open.

    – Inadequate engine for the A350-1000. Possible, but three things mitigate: 1) they have to work through the 787 and A350-900 versions of the engines first, so the 1000 engine is incremental, not a brand new development; 2) the 1000 model represents about 10% of the backlog – if it’s delayed by engine problems, Airbus will crank out more 900’s instead; 3) engines improve gradually over time – if the initial iteration falls short, RR will no doubt catch up later.

    – GE or P&W to supply second source engine. I suspect RR have too big a head start on A350 orders. I believe GE expected Airbus to give in over the 1000 standoff. Was the agreement with Boeing so restrictive that GE really couldn’t offer anything or was it just part of a negotiating gambit that failed to pay off with Airbus? Given that GE had to pay Boeing handsomely for the privilege of hanging an engine off the 777, it seems masochistic to deny themselves leverage of their investment, as every other engine program has done.

    • I was starting to believe I was the only one who had such thoughts on the engine development scenario for the A350-1000 as well as the whole GE/Airbus engine negotiations vis a vis the A350.

      If GE truly signed such an agreement, I wonder what they got in return for it. Huge amounts of development funding from Boeing? If not, it seems to me a rather unwise decision to sign such an agreement.

      I wonder who, if anyone, will give in on the A350. Obviously GE is missing out on alot of engine sales. The question is, how many A350 sales have slipped through the fingers of Airbus due to only having RR engines on offer?

      As for the RR situation, assuming things are not as bad as they seem, which is difficult at this point in time, Rolls should be able to develope a variant for the -1000 in the next 5 years. Typical materials and manufacturing advances over that period could make all the difference. That Boeing would voice such doubts is no suprise to me. I jsut wonder how much they believe Airbus listens to them.

      • had someone connecting the excessive MTOW tests done on the 748 to significant underperformance of the GEnx 2B engines. And Boeing has not been really exuberant in telling about 787 performance ( Boeing staying in character I would have expected a bit of judicious boasting ).

        I have this little feeling that the A380’s engines were the last to be done “on time and on target” and that GE is carefully riding their historic 777 wave. Industry wide a distinct dip in proficiency.

        Saw a nice sig sometime ago:
        Misery does not only like company,
        today it demands to be accompanied.

      • Aero Ninja, it was the other way round. GE had to fund a portion of Boeing’s 777-300ER development costs as well as paying for its own development of the new engine. The 777-300ER turned out to be a great success, but they couldn’t have been sure of that at the time. It might have been an A340-600 instead. Why would an astute company like GE forgo the possibility of recouping of its investment on another plane?

        • FF,
          if that is truly the case (GE doing the financing on both sides), I am totally confused. Why would GE agree to such a limiting stipulation. As one of my bosses used to often say, “I don’t think we are getting the whole story here.”

      • Aero Ninja, my best guess is this. GE really didn’t want to do an engine for the 1000 as this would mean an expensive development for relatively few additional sales. They could cover the 800 and 900 (the bulk of sales) with a cheap extension of their engines for the 787 and 747. Airbus viewed the 1000 as a vital part of the range and not just a nice to have. Also, developments for the 1000 would feed back into better engines for the 800 and 900 and make those models more attractive. Impasse.

        The question is whether GE thought (wrongly as it turned out) that Airbus would climb down and GE would save a ton of cash. Or whether they had decided the 1000 model devlopment wasn’t worth doing anyway, for the number of sales they expected to get from the entire A350 range.

        Airbus seemed to think GE was bluffing. John Leahy made a comment to the effect that GE are only too happy to develop new models for their pals at Boeing, but when Airbus come calling they just get what’s on the shelf.

        To be fair to GE though, Airbus mucked up engine strategy with their Mark II A350. GE’s proposed engines would have been fine for the Mark I model.

  7. Our real focus should be on the Plane Facts article. It has no ax to grind either way, and the facts it relates are truly damning. RR seems to be following Boeing’s model for stonewalling and lieing about the 787, particularly the claims Q says RR made to induce Q to buy 900s. These have nothing to do with RR’s current insurance related silence. They occurred long ago. Remember,insurers insure negligent acts not intentional ones, and certainly not fraudulent ones. It’s possible that RR and its insurers will end up in a coverage dispute if RR made the representations Q claims and RR has reason to know they were false..

    The good news is that BA today chose the 900 and 1000 to power its A380s and 787 respectively.
    suce them to buy the 900.lfactws ut reooorts .damning. Suchld

    • Qantas did not buy engines they have a contract for Thrust by the Hour.
      All MX externalised, nobody home at Qantas to understand those engines
      anymore or receive engine change notices.
      Thus they maneuvered themselves into the Blind Trust Corner.

      Situationally I would put Qantas and Boeing closer together.

      Additionally with Qantas trying to hound RR with lawyers any
      communication from RR dried up. Understandably, imho.

      Certainly, Boeing is a lot more wordy towards the general public
      and they need to be! They are talking for their life ( while RR is
      perhaps more occupied with working for their life 😉

  8. Memory banks get short.
    Years ago, Cathay were forced to halt operations with early model A330’s due to a gearbox issue with the Trent 700.
    Today the Trent 700 is by far the most popular engine of the three available on the 330.
    Get the 900 issue into context it was a ten week glitch in what will probably be a twenty year plus programme.

  9. There’s an awful lot of speculation here based on the maxim of (excuse the pun) ‘where there’s smoke, there’s a fire’. If we instead apply Ockham’s Razor, crap PR would offer itself as the least complicated explanation.

    For the moment I do not think that what RR does on the Trent issue is in any way comparable to what Boeing has done on the 787. Here we are looking at 10 or so weeks during which they had to knuckle down and work on a problem suddenly thrown into their face. Boeing has a history of three and a half years of being less than forthright on the issue of the 787, and at any given opportunity to come clean (or at least be more realistic), assuredly failed to take it up by claiming that just another six months will fix the issue (a bit like a coke addict – just one more line and I’ll quit, no really. Sure you will.).

    If anything, then this compares to the handling of the 787 on-board fire. But not to the whole saga. Boeing is in a league of their own there.

    Let’s keep some perspective.

  10. Perhaps these companies are following a policy of, to paraphrase, “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people suspect you are in trouble, than to open your mouth and confirm it”.

  11. Rolls Royce are the absolute masters at developing. They WILL get the 900, 1000 and XWB engines right – that I promise. RR have an order book for almost 5000 engines – they will pull all the stops out. The three shaft engine design for big aircraft is perfect. It really is the rigth design for the job. As for Qantas and the trent 900 – of course it shouldn’t have happened. The Engine Alliance really worked hard to get their product up to spec. RR were frustrated with the delay of the A380, put the wraps on the 900 and got on with other projects. They shouldn’t have done that. But, we don’t know what really is going on behind the scenes. RR shares have been going up and if you had invested in the opposition, well, you wouldn’t feel too happy with the situation – would you? RR are right to say very little as there is much money involved.

  12. Where’s the problem ?
    An RR Trent 900 engine on a Qantas A380 disintegrated due to one faulty manufactured part which could be identified as the only cause beyond doubt. The engine failure could entirely be traced back to this single part.
    So everyone can be sure, no other engine of this type will fail due to this issue, as soon as the corresponding part is replaced on all engines of this type.
    If I were Airbus, I wouldn’t worry too much regarding RR engines for the A350 XWB.

  13. Aero Ninja :
    if that is truly the case (GE doing the financing on both sides), I am totally confused. Why would GE agree to such a limiting stipulation. As one of my bosses used to often say, “I don’t think we are getting the whole story here.”

    If GE moves towards the XWB would RR expand its product portfolio for the 777?
    Two times single source certainly has other revenue potential than having to
    race for every sale.

    • I see your point but that would only make sense if this whole arrangement was done at the same time. The 777 is a bit older than the A350XWB.

      I did read in Wikpedia that GE requested to be sole engine supplier for the 777-300ER. I could assume that Boeing in return requested that the 777 be the sole aircraft that could use the GE90-115B.

      • Contractually GE is the sole-source engine on the 777-300ER and 777-200LR. Also contractually GE cannot supply an engine that competes with the 777-300ER.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *