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Rolls-Royce shares its thoughts, shows its cards on future engines

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner N787BX ZA003

SEATTLE -- At the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference earlier this week, engine makers Pratt & Whitney, CFM International and Rolls-Royce shared their thoughts on their respective next-generation engine developments. Understandably, P&W and CFM focused on their PW1000G geared turbofan and Leap-X, respectively, which have been selected on the CSeries, MRJ, MS-21 (P&W only), C919 (CFM only) and are the options on the A320neo.

It was clear that Dominic Horwood, Rolls-Royce senior vice president, took a different approach to his presentation when be began with this introduction:
I guess we are sort of the odd one out here. I'm not going to spend the next 20 minutes trying to push you some great new engine technology, I want to explain to you what Rolls is doing, what it's thinking, what it believes in, and why it thinks that actually these guys are doing the wrong thing, we are waiting this out.
Rolls has long-maintained it felt re-engining was the wrong way to go, as they were unconvinced - as Boeing is - that the lack of a viable business does not justify the undertaking. In the context of a technology spat between International Aero Engines partners Rolls and Pratt along with Airbus pushing ahead with A320neo sans IAE, the comments from the UK engine-maker often read like sour grapes.

Though with attention turned primarily to Leap-X and P&W for their nearer-term offerings, the media's coverage - this page included - did not adequately extend its lens to Rolls-Royce and its own thoughts on the future. 
Fundamentally, we don't agree with re-engining as a business model. We can't see value for us, we can't see value for our customers, we can't see value for the airframers. People are beginning to buy these airplanes, you've read about Virgin America, you've read about Indigo, but I ask you, would they still buy the A320 if it wasn't re-engined. Is Boeing going to stop selling 737s because they don't have a new engine on it yet? I don't think so.

We don't see the net financial benefit. Fuel burn, fuel burn is key, clearly. But the fuel burn benefit that this airplane is capable of brining is about wiped out with a net present value level at 15 years for the price Airbus is asking for the new airplane. The equation isn't there, it makes no sense for us as an industry to invest precious resources, the billions of dollars to do this, we think we should be doing something else. We think it destroys value, and worst of all it is pushing off what we do, what all of us here, we do great new airplanes.
Citing examples of both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 on which Rolls is an engine supplier, Horwood says "We want to design an airplane and an engine that are made for each other. We want to support people who want to do new airplanes, we want to focus on driving a level of technology that is not going to be available in 2014 or 15."

Responding to the claim that the CSeries, MS-21, MRJ and C919 are all clean-sheet designs with optimized applications of Pratt and CFM power plants, Horwood says: "The C919, the MS-21, they're important airplanes, but there aren't many people in the world who think they're going to define our industry. The duopoly of sorts will continue, Boeing and Airbus, and maybe some mix in there from Embraer and Bombardier will define the future."

So how is Rolls working to "define the future" while its competitors are advancing on a re-engined narrowbody and market newcomers? Quietly unveiled at July's Farnborough Air Show - and likely overshadowed by the re-engining debate - Rolls-Royce detailed its future technology plans for developing clean-sheet engines for clean-sheet aircraft.

The plans center around three different engines.

The first, known as Advance2, is designed for the next-generation medium and large business jets, along with regional aircraft, as well as a 140 to 200-seat commercial jetliner. The two shaft turbofan would feature a 16,000-25,000lb thrust range with an entry into service in 2016 or 2017. The Advance2 core is currently running in Germany having undertaken three trials, two in a sea level chamber and one on an altitude test bed.

The second, Advance3, is the company's next generation Trent three-shaft design. The Advance3 covers a massive thrust range from 30,000 to 100,000lbs, aimed at supplying the 150 to 200-seat market and the 250 to 600-seat widebody market. The Advance3 demonstrator is currently running at Rolls-Royce's Bristol, UK facility, with a planned availability from 2017 or 2018.

Both Advance2 and Advance3 aim to deliver 15-20% lower fuel consumption, 10-20% less CO2, 50% lower emissions and 12dB noise reduction.

Lastly, if cleansheet 737 and A320 replacements slip beyond 2022, Rolls believes an Open Rotor design with gas turbine powered contra-rotating propellors becomes a viable option for the 20,000-35,000lb thrust range likely not available before 2025. Horwood is quick to admit that there are many open questions about the technology which could deliver a 30% improvement in fuel consumption and CO2.
I don't absolutely know yet how we are going to certify it, but I know it's capable of much better fuel burn and much lower NOx then any product we're talking about here, including the ones above. Is it low risk? Absolutely not. Is it really, really difficult? You bet. Are we going to ignore it? Never.
The second half of 2010 was about as miserable a time for Rolls-Royce as one could imagine with uncontained failures on both the Trent 900 and 1000, as well as A320neo advancing without IAE despite its objections. Though, Horwood, whose bold defense of Rolls-Royce should be put forward by the company in both increased frequency and volume, concluded this way:
Are we going to support re-engined airplanes, no? Do we believe that's the right solution for our industry? No. But are we going to fight with every bone in our body and win the future of new airplanes, absolutely.  I would put to you, ruling out Rolls-Royce in a sector, ruling out our technology when so much of our industry is defined by the state-of-the-art that would be pretty foolish. 

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