Engine makers may face stiffer future ETOPS certification requirements

Discussion
Certification

Airbus and Boeing, in designing their new wide-body airplanes, want the longest possible ETOPS certification. This means the ability for a twin-engine airplane to operate a more direct, faster route over water. The distances to alternate airports in the event of a diversion or emergency extends the longer ETOPS is certified by the lead agencies (EASA for Airbus, FAA for Boeing). Reciprocal certification is usually a formality, though there may be some differences.

Airbus and Boeing asked for, and received, 330-minute ETOPS for the A350 and 787. This means these airplanes may be up to 5 ½ hours single-engine flying from the nearest airport. This is roughly equivalent to flying between New York and Seattle.

By the time the 787 and A350 were ready for service, engines had become so reliable that GE and Rolls-Royce obtained these long ETOPS certification upon entry into service.

With the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX now capable of 4,000nm ranges (up to about eight hours of flying, allowing for alternates and holding patterns), ETOPS is needed for single-aisles as well. (A320s and 737NGs already have been flying up to seven hours over water, such as the US West Coast to Hawaii, for many years.)

In-Service difficulties

But the new engines developed by GE Aviation, CFM International, Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney for the 747-8, 787, 737 MAX and A320neo proved less than reliable after entering service.

The GEnx on the 747-8 and 787 developed icing problems under certain conditions that continue to this day.

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Certain engine packages of the RR Trent 1000 (but not the latest, the Trent 1000 TEN) on the 787 now have fan blade issues. EASA and the FAA have now issued Airworthiness Directives for inspections and fixes. If the inspections fail—and RR says as many as 40%-50% of the inspection may fail—ETOPS must be reduced to 140 or even 60 minutes. This will balloon operational costs for most airlines and for an island carrier like Air New Zealand, the fleet effectively is grounded.

The CFM LEAP 1A and 1B have some technical issues, which when compared with the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan, can be classed as nettlesome, nevertheless result is less on-wing time than forecasted. CFM is also running 4-6 weeks behind in deliveries to Airbus and Boeing for the A320neo and 737 MAX.

Pratt & Whitney’s problems with the GTF are well known. Technical issues and parts shortages resulted in Aircraft on the Ground (AOG) for months at a time. In India, regulators grounded more than a dozen A320neos with GTFs operated by Indigo and Go Airlines. Dozens of neos litter Airbus’ Toulouse and Hamburg lines awaiting GTF and LEAP engines.

Regulatory actions?

All these issues have led some in the airline industry to fear authorities may clamp down on future engine certification and ETOPS approval.

The thinking, they say, is that engines must prove themselves before being granted the lengthy ETOPS given to RR and GE in the recent past.

More pressing: how soon will the FAA and EASA restore full ETOPS to the 787? One observer believes it could be a couple of years.

Also: what is all this going to mean for ETOPS-out-of-the-box for the Boeing 777X and its GE9X engine? Failure to receive 330-minute ETOPS approval by entry-into-service won’t help sales of already-stalled orders.

A330 neo

The concerns don’t stop there.

The Airbus A330neo is powered by a version of the Trent 1000, called the Trent 7000. It’s essentially the 1000 with bleed air features vs the electric version for the 787. But the 7000 is also based on the Trent 1000 TEN that is, so far, unaffected by the 1000’s technical flaws.

Still, the flaws didn’t emerge for years after EIS and some industry officials wonder if the 7000 might also develop flaws over time.

The A330neo is late, due to engine development. It’s not entirely clear if this is because RR was diverted to fixing the 1000 issues or the issues had to developed out of the 7000. Either way, engine delays hurt the A330neo.

A350

There is emerging evidence that the Trent 1000 problems may hurt A350 campaigns. LNC has been told of at least one airline that favors the A350 over the 787 for a new round of procurement. But because of the problems with the RR-powered 787s it already operates, and what it considers to be poor response by RR to the problem, officials are leaning toward the 787 but switching to GE engines. This campaign isn’t over, however.

Impact on the NMA

What do the engine problems mean for the Boeing NMA/797?

Already there is speculation that Rolls-Royce is eliminated from contention to provide an engine for the NMA. Pratt & Whitney’s chances are also in doubt, LNC is told. The engine requirement falls within the joint venture thrust class (up to 50,000 lbs) for CFM International. The current problems with the LEAP engine aren’t viewed as especially serious nor is the high-profile CFM56 blade issue. More problematic is the potential divorce between GE and Safran that’s being discussed in aviation circles.

The betting is CFM, or GE, depending on the divorce, will be on the NMA. Whether this is a single- or dual-source engine selection is a decision yet to be made. Engine down-select is expected before the end of the year.

Authority to Offer the airplane for sale is expected to be approved by the Boeing board in the 4th quarter.

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