Boeing 737 MAX: LEAP engine production to slow but not stop

Following Boeing’s decision to suspend the production of the 737 MAX, the joint venture composed of Safran and General Electric Aviation should reduce the production rates of the LEAP-1B engine ‒ but not stop it.

Boeing decided to suspend the production of the 737 MAX on December 16, 2019, citing the extension of certification into 2020, the uncertainty about the timing and conditions of return to service and global training approvals.

The planemaker said the production halt would not affect its own workforce, which could be redeployed to other facilities. But the decision is due to impact the suppliers and subcontractors involved in the MAX program, including CFM International, the joint venture between Safran and General Electric that manufactures the LEAP-1B engine powering the airliner.

The two partners are still evaluating the situation, a Safran spokesperson told AeroTime.

However, Philippe Petitcolin, CEO of the French manufacturer, said it intended to keep the production line open, in order to maintain its industrial capacities. To cope with the Boeing 737 MAX suspension, the production output of the LEAP-1B engine could be reduced by as much as 65%.

“I think we should keep a rate of at least 15 planes per month, or 30 engines per month [against 84 engines today],” said Safran CEO Philippe Petitcolin in an interview with Usine Nouvelle. “I think it’s easier to ramp up when you already have a production than to start from scratch,” he explained. Petitcolin remained evasive on the consequences this could have for Safran. Could the drop of production lead to some layoffs? “At this point, it is still too early to tell,” said Safran CEO.

The extent of the production reduction should be decided by Safran and GE before the end of the week.

When presenting its financial results for the first half of 2019, Safran said it expected to see the Boeing 737 MAX situation affect its finances in the second half of the year. It estimated that the decrease of pre-payments for future deliveries would impact free cash flow by €300 million per semester. However, this forecast was “based on an assumption of return to service for Boeing 737 MAX” by the end of 2019.

Read more: Safran reports strong financial results despite 737 MAX impact

The Boeing 737 MAX is exclusively powered by the LEAP-1B engine. The LEAP family is also powering the A320neo family, and should be the engine of the Chinese airliner Comac C919 once it enters service.



Image: Boeingman

Boeing 777X loses Qantas’ Project Sunrise to Airbus A350

Qantas picked its favorite: Airbus could be the manufacturer to break the record for the longest commercial connection in the world. The Airbus A350-1000 was selected as the “preferred aircraft” for the airline’s upcoming 20-hour flights.

The Australian carrier announced its preference for Airbus on December 13, 2019, at the expense of Boeing which had offered the 777-8. A “detailed evaluation of the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350” was made to pick the aircraft which could participate in the Project Sunrise. “The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the agreement on the table with Airbus offers us the best possible combination of commercial conditions, energy efficiency, operating costs and customer experience,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce in a press release. He also praised the “high reliability” of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB powering the aircraft.

There is no doubt that the uncertainties surrounding the Boeing 777X program have weighed in Qantas’ decision. Originally planned to begin during the summer of 2019, the flight test campaign of the B777-9 has not started yet. The development has been plagued with technical issues affecting both the aircraft and its engine, the GE9x. In those conditions, it seems highly unlikely that the B777-8, expected to come out of production two years after its “big brother”, would have been ready for the beginning of the flights in 2023.

No order has been signed yet, as the Project Sunrise test flights are still ongoing. The last of three Project Sunrise research flights, this time from New York to Sydney, will be conducted on December 17, 2019. Those test flights aim at studying the impact of such long flights on the health of passengers and the attention of pilots. The data should also help Qantas obtain regulatory approvals to carry that flight. According to the carrier, the Australian’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority “has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights.”

The final decision is expected for March 2020. But up to twelve Airbus A350-1000s could be ordered at a list price of €3.9 billion ($4.4 billion). However, the 17,000-kilometers (10,000 miles) route will require a conversion of the aircraft into an ultra-long-range variant. This was done for Singapore Airlines when it chose the A350-900ULR to serve its route between New York and Singapore in 2018. The conversion includes an increased maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) and an improved fuel capacity.

The Project Sunrise test flights should also give Qantas relevant data on the future plane configuration and cabin design. “Research flights have underscored the importance of dedicated space for stretching and movement for Economy passengers in particular, as well as the potential benefits from re-designing the service on board to actively shift people to their destination timezone,” says the airline.

For Qantas to launch its first flights between Sidney and London in the first half of 2023, it has yet to reach a wage agreement with its pilots. Negotiations with the Australian and International Pilots Association are ongoing. The company hopes to obtain an agreement for productivity and efficiency gains in exchange for an annual wage increase of 3% and promotional opportunities for its long-haul pilots.

The union had voiced its concern that the tests might not be sufficient to assess the feasibility of those flights when it comes to pilot health. The test flights “are special services restricted to a much reduced complement of passengers and crew,” said Mark Sedgwick, President of the AIPA, in a press release. “More work would need to be done on fatigue risk management, looking particularly at the cumulative effects of long range operations on crew”.



Image: Airbus

Italy’s Bologna airport has new Lamborghini for planes to follow

No, this is not the super fleet of the Dubai police force, but it comes close. Italian luxury sports car manufacturer Lamborghini has delivered a new Huracán to Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna. A “new” one, as it is the sixth car that the brand has been ‘generous’ enough to gift its local airport for use of leading aircraft on the runways.

The new “Follow-Me” Lamborghini Huracán RWD was delivered to Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) on December 10, 2019, the manufacturer announced. Designed by Lamborghini Centro Stile, the car sports a unique livery: the orange body is embellished with graphics depicting the typical machines maneuvering in the airport areas; the Italian flag is featured on both doors, roof, front and rear intakes; a chequerboard design tops the front and rear haunches.

The new Huracán, the sixth to be sent to the airport, is a rear-driven LP-580, which has a 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10 engine with 580-horsepower. Sadly, the new car, capable of reaching top speed of 199mph (320km/h), will not be able to live to its full potential on the new job as airport car speeds are limited to around 35mph (56km/h). Equipped with an orange light-bar on the roof, as well as a radio connected with the control tower of the airport, the car will be leading aircraft towards the parking stand or taxiing out to the runway. Safe to say, the vehicle will surely stand out.



Image: Lamborghini

Introducing Aviadvigatel PD-14: engine to power MC-21

The Irkutsk Aviation Plant has completed assembly of a new MC-21-300 aircraft fuselage. While the fuselage is the fifth already and three prototypes are already in flight testing, what is special about this particular prototype is the fact that it would be the first one equipped with a new type of engines. This time, the engine would be made in Russia.

The Irkutsk Aviation Plant broke the news about the latest MC-21-300 fuselage completion on December 10, 2019. The aircraft still needs to have systems as well as wing and tail consoles installed before it begins testing. Once it does, it would be the first MC-21 in testing equipped with Russian Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine.

Currently, there are four test aircraft already in action, all of them powered by American Pratt & Whitney PW1400G-JM engines. The latest, fourth, prototype was rolled off the assembly line and was transferred to flight test facility on November 28, 2019. Initially, it was this aircraft that was supposed to rely on the Russian engine, but plans were later abandoned in order not to delay the MC-21 program further than it already is.

Now, with the fifth MC-21 prototype aircraft in progress, the Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine enters the scene.

Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine

The PD-14 engine is the first completely Russian engine for civil airliners created in Russia since the 1980s. Designed by Aviadvigatel and manufactured by the Perm Engine Company (both companies belong to the United Engine Corporation, UAC), it is specifically designed to power the MC-21-300 aircraft.

The PD-14 would generate 137kN of thrust for take-off. Among the main competitive advantages of PD-14, the engine features lower exhaust temperatures of combustion chamber, according to Aviadvigatel, which also emphasises that the solution helps to save on operating costs and reduce risks.

The engine also has a smaller diameter (190 cm) to reduce engine mass and drag of the nacelle, an “optimal” internal circuit dimensions and “sufficiently high” degree of fan compression, which eliminates the need for an adjustable external circuit nozzle, the manufacturer highlights.

Just like the MC-21-300 is expected to be the first airliner in a series, so is the PD-14 seen as the basis version of the engine family, which will power the Russian airliners. In September 2019, UEC deputy director told RIA Novosti that MC-21-400 would be powered by PD-16, a modified power plant based on the PD-14. Reportedly, the newer engine would have an increased bypass ratio of the fan. However, the manufacturer’s website lists the engine which will eventually power the MC-21-200 simply as PD-14A, while MC-21-400 powerplant-to-be is called PD-14M.

The flight tests have started in 2015. The PD-14 was certified by Russian authorities in the fall of 2018. The following step, obtaining certification by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), is expected in 2020.

Flight tests of the MC-21 with Russian engines are scheduled for the first quarter of 2020, while the first PD-14-powered MC-21 is expected to enter service with Aeroflot in 2022.

Made in Russia with a little help?

Remember the part where PD-14 was supposed to be the first completely Russian engine? Well, the extent of the claim could now be questioned after the U.S. authorities launched a criminal complaint against a high-ranking United Engine Corp (UEC) official in a corporate espionage case. The subject matter in the case in none other than jet engines.

In September 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that two people ‒ a Russian and an Italian nationals ‒ have been charged in the United States with conspiring and attempting to steal trade secrets from an American aviation company, GE Aviation. One of the two people is identified as Alexander Yuryevich Korshunov, an employee of UEC.

The PD-14 manufacturer Aviadvigatel is a subsidiary of the Russian state company.

Between 2013 and 2018 GE Aviation’s Italian subsidiary employees were hired to do consulting work related to jet engine accessory gearboxes for the two accusees (including Korshunov), as outlined in the statement by the Department of Justice.

The employees’ statements of work typically said that the “the holders of patent and intellectual property obtained as a result of the work are…the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation,” according to DoJ.

However, the employees hired for the consulting work allegedly used GE Aviation’s trade secrets to create technical report. The effort, in DoJ’s belief, was focused on external engine components, accessory gearboxes, that provide power to systems such as hydraulic pumps, generators and fuel pumps.

Aviadvigatel has previously raised suspicions of another U.S. authority, the Department of Commerce, which “entity listed” the company in September 2018, alledging it was acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.

It must be noted that criminal complaint contains allegations, meaning that Korshunov and the other person accused of corporate espionage are presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The MC-21 is a medium-haul plane capable of carrying between 132 and 211 passengers. Seen as a replacement to the Tu-154 and Tu-204 aircraft in Russia, it is designed to compete with the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.

The program has been plagued with delays that the Russian government mostly attributed to American sanctions.

The first MC-21 prototype made a maiden flight in May 2017. In current estimations, the aircraft could be certified in Russian in 2020 and obtain EASA’s certification the following year.



Image: Sergey Kohl,

Airbus A350-1000 to get increased seating capacity, rival 777X

The largest member of the Airbus A350XWB Family – the A350-1000 – has been given the green light from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for an increase in its maximum seating capacity by 40 additional seats. The higher seat count, enabled through the installation of modified emergency exits, would potentially boost the competitiveness of the A350-1000 against the Boeing 777X.

The A350-1000 has previously been approved to seat up to 440 passengers. Configured in a typical three-class layout, the jet accommodates 350-410 seats, according to the manufacturer. British Airways’ A350-1000s, for instance, which is the latest to receive the model in June 2019, are configured in a 331-seat layout. Cathay Pacific, one of the biggest buyers of the A350-1000, has its jets configured with 334 seats.

For comparison, the A350-1000’s smaller brother – the A350-900 – has also been approved to a maximum seating of 440, but typically accommodates up to 350 passengers. The latest to receive that variant, with a total of eight on firm order from the plane maker, is Scandinavian airline SAS, which took delivery of its first A350-900 on November 28, 2019. The carrier’s A350-900s have a three-class cabin layout with 300 seats.

Now, with the EASA’s go-ahead, the new maximum seating for the larger A350-1000 variant would increase by 40 additional seats to 480 passengers, raising the question for what purpose (and by what operators) would such high-density aircraft be utilized.

Airbus’s pursuit of increased capacity

According to official documents, back in June 2019, the EASA introduced an Equivalent Safety Finding to review Airbus’ request for an increase in maximum seating capacity on the A350-1000. However, the additional seating required the development of new safety regulations. The EASA had found that the “Type A” emergency exits were not sufficient to seat more passengers on board the aircraft than the approved 440 maximum count.

“Notwithstanding the improvements introduced in the meantime in the “state of the art” Type A emergency exit design (e.g. escape slides performance, door opening time, etc.), EASA does still consider the maximum number of passenger seats (i.e. 110) allowed by CS 25.807(g) per pair of Type A emergency exits as appropriate,” is written in the Equivalent Safety Finding (ESF).

Airbus’ request for an increase in seating capacity on the A350-1000 has been granted by the EASA with development of a new term and subsequent modified design – the “Type A+” emergency exit, featuring additional safety measures.

According to Airbus’s proposal, outlined in the ESF and reviewed by the regulator, these modified emergency exits will feature two parallel evacuation slides, with extra, enhanced lighting and a dedicated exit sign. The new doors will also require additional cabin crew – three, instead of two that is standard for Type A exit pair, – to be stationed at each installed pair of Type A+ emergency exits.

“The design features included in the proposed Type A+ emergency exit definition provide for an increased evacuation performance compared to a design meeting the requirements for a Type A emergency exit,” the regulator explains in the ESF.

Airbus was tasked with undertaking rigorous testing campaign to ensure the increased performance of the Type A+ emergency exits, which it completed successfully. According to EASA’s Type Certificate outline, dated November 27, 2019, Airbus’s request for additional seating has been granted.

According to cabin specifications, as stated in the document, the new Type A+ exits will allow to sit 120 passengers per emergency exit – an increase of 10 passengers compared to the allowance with Type A emergency exit. However, the high-density will also mean a less spacious cabin, as the new version will require the seating to be 10-abreast (instead of current 9-abreast).

The EASA also lists various zonal capacities for the new version, with up to 124 seats in the front cabin, a maximum of 180 in the central cabin, and a maximum of 190 seats in the aft cabin. If fewer Type A+ exits are installed, the regulator also allows options for a maximum of 470 seats and below. The minimum number of required cabin crew would rise to nine if the maximum seating exceeds 400.

The new contender

The A350-1000 is already a rival to the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and the 777-300ER. With the development of a higher capacity variant, it will now put the jet in direct competition with Boeing’s brand-new and highly anticipated 777X model.

According to the manufacturer’s current technical specifications, the larger 777-9 variant will be able to seat up to 426 passengers in a two-class layout, while the 777-8 will accommodate a maximum of 384 passengers. Although not reaching the seat count of the A350-1000, the smaller 777-8 will be in close race with the Airbus wide-body in terms of range: the A350-1000 can fly up to 8,700 nm (16,100 km), while the maximum range of the 777-8 is 8,730 nm (16,170 km).

And here is where the competition comes in: Australian flag carrier Qantas has challenged Boeing and Airbus to present their “best offer” for a more capable long-haul jetliner with greater payload capacity to pursue its Project Sunrise mission. The airline aims to launch ultra-long-haul routes from the east coast of Australia to London and New York and is currently using the Boeing 787-9 to conduct three research flights from London to Perth. Boeing has pitched the 777-8 for the project, but delays in the 777X program have already worsened the odds for the U.S. plane maker, which is reportedly now offering the 777-9 for the project.

The best-seller

While the Airbus-Boeing rivalry is not deemed to end anytime soon, it can be said that the A350s are doing well on their own. At the end of October 2019, the A350 XWB Family had received 913 firm orders from 50 customers worldwide, making it one of the most successful wide-body aircraft ever, as the manufacturer says itself. The biggest cash cow for Airbus, however, has been the smaller A350-900 variant: the absolute majority of orders have been placed for the latter jet, totaling 737; the remaining 176 firm orders stand for the A350-1000.

By far the largest customer of the A350-1000 is Qatar Airways, the launch operator of the type (the jet entered service with the airline in February 2018). The Gulf carrier has placed 42 orders for the A350-1000. Other big buyers include Etihad and Cathay Pacific with 20 firm orders each and British Airways with 18.



Image: Chittapon Kaewkiriya /

EASA issues airworthiness directive for RR Trent 1000 and 7000

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued on November 20, 2019, an airworthiness directive (AD) for Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and Trent 7000 engines. The significance of the regulation? The engines in question are those that power Airbus A330neo jets and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 and Trent 1000 are high-bypass turbofan engines: the Trent 7000 was developed specifically for the A330neo, while the Trent 1000 is one of the two engine options for the 787 Dreamliner, the other being GE Aviation GEnx-1B.

The EASA’s directive was issued after cracks were found in the front air seal of the intermediate-pressure compressor (IPC) shaft assembly during stripping of a flight test engine. Follow-up inspections of other in-shop engines revealed two more cracked front air seals of IPC shaft assemblies, the document reads.

“This condition, if not detected and corrected, could lead to IPC shaft failure, possibly resulting in engine in-flight shut-down and consequent reduced control of the aeroplane.”

The regulation requires repetitive on-wing inspections between the fourth (rearmost) seal fin of affected part’s front air seal and the IPC Stage 1 disc. The checks need to be carried out at intervals not to exceed 200 flight cycles. Depending on findings, it could also necessitate the engine’s removal from service for corrective actions by Rolls-Royce.

EASA provides rigorous initial inspections criteria and timelines: if the engine has accumulated 700 flight cycles (FC) or less, the compliance time is before exceeding 500 FC, or within 100 FC after the effective date of the AD (November 27, 2019) whichever occurs later; if more than 700 FC and up to 1000 FC (inclusive), the compliance time is within 50 FC after the effective date of the AD; and if more than 1000 FC – within 25 FC or 30 days whichever occurs first after the effective date of the AD.

The agency has already issued several ADs for the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and Trent 7000 engines in October 2019 and earlier in November 2019.

Opting for the competitor on the 787 Dreamliner

Air New Zealand announced on November 18, 2019, it would have to cancel more than 80 international flights, affecting around 14,000 passengers around the peak holiday season due to delays with servicing Rolls-Royce engines. The airline said it would also be making changes to its summer 2020 schedule due to the same issues.

The flag carrier has 13 Boeing 787-9s fitted with Trent 1000 Package C or Trent 1000 TEN engines and is awaiting delivery of one more Trent-equipped Dreamliner.

“We have 14 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft in our fleet and four spare engines to power these. However, all these spare engines are with Rolls Royce offshore either undergoing service or waiting for a service slot,” Air New Zealand senior fleet manager 787 captain Dave Wilson was quoted as saying by Australia’s Travel Weekly.

Air New Zealand, among several other airlines, has been dealing with Rolls-Royce engine problems since 2016. While the issues have not discouraged the kiwi carrier from buying Dreamliners, it has affected its choice of the power plant. In May 2019, the airline signed a firm agreement to purchase eight Boeing 787-10s with an option to increase the order up to 20 aircraft, as well as rights to switch from the larger 787-10 to the 787-9. This time, however, instead of Rolls-Royce, the airline opted for GE Aviation’s GEnx-1B engines to power its new long-haulers.

It might not be surprising then that both Biman Bangladesh, which ordered two 787-9s, and the Republic of Ghana, which signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for three jets of the same type at the Dubai Airshow 2019, also selected the GEnx-1B engines to power their new airliners, GE announced. Other customers, including Emirates, which inked an order for 30 787-9 Dreamliners, have not yet revealed their engine choices, but we may almost guess what that might be.



Image: Maxene Huiyu /