August 2012

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Does Ryanair want the Geared Turbofan for its mega order?

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a340gtfmount2.gifUPDATE 7:37 PM:
Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Airbus SAS Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy said the aircraft maker is not in discussions to sell Ryanair Holdings Plc hundreds of short-haul planes, quashing an attempt by the Dublin-based airline to provoke a bidding war between the European manufacturer and Boeing Co., the Financial Times reported.

Ryanair, which operates a fleet of 181 Boeing 737-800s, this week said it was in early talks with Airbus and Boeing to buy as many as 400 short-haul aircraft, the report said.
Ryanair is planning to place a massive order for 400 aircraft in the next 12-24 months for delivery between 2012 and 2017. Ryanair is known for its large orders, but what makes this revelation significant is not the size of the order, but rather which aircraft manufacturer the airline may order from. Once thought to be among the most loyal Boeing customers, Ryanair is opening the door to Airbus to offer the A320 and A321 to join its all 737-800 fleet.

The Irish airline has always held closely to the low-cost tenet of flying one type of aircraft, but Deputy Chief Executive Officer Michael Cawley insists that, "We're large enough now to run two fleets. We see no cost handicaps that can't be overcome by running two fleets."

Coinciding with this revelation was Pratt & Whitney's announcement that it had completed its PW1000G Geared Turbofan demonstrator flight test program in Toulouse. The engine was flown under the wing of an Airbus A340-600 for more than 75 hours in its second and final flight test phase.

The test flight program ignited speculation that Airbus was considering flying a 30,000 lb variant of the PW1000G on A320 family aircraft for a significant mid-life performance improvement ahead of a full narrow-body replacement expected late in the next decade at the earliest.

One industry source associated with Pratt & Whitney's geared turbofan development says the engine-maker has laid the strategic and budgetary groundwork for developing a PW1000G for the A320 and/or 737 in anticipation of airline demand through the heart of the next decade.

Pratt & Whitney emphasizes that its focus remains on beginning detailed design work for the MRJ and CSeries aircraft engines for a PW1000G entry into service come 2013.

Airbus has always been sensitive about this speculation saying only that flying the PW1000G demonstrator allowed them to understand the technology challenges associated with the engine and that the airframer had no plans to re-engine the A320.

Boeing has been equally quiet about its 737 're-generation' plans, but the PW1000G is thought to be in its plans as well.

Further fueling the fire of speculation, as a condition of its collaboration with Airbus, Pratt & Whitney has agreed not to release the detailed test results until after Airbus has had the chance to review them in full, potentially providing them a head start on optimizing the A320 for this purpose.

P&W insists this is a courtesy to its flying host, though the protection of the results is more than eyebrow raising and could point to early development stages for re-engining plans, which Airbus said would take 24-30 months to execute on.

Which brings us back to Ryanair and their sudden openness to purchasing 400 Airbus or Boeing aircraft.  Leading the speculation train forward, the removal of "cost handicaps" may originate from a double-digit improvement in fuel burn that could come from a PW1000G powered narrow-body. A true 737/A320 replacement wouldn't be available until 2020 at least and a mid-term solution might be the right ticket for growth.

Ryanair's proposed break with tradition is sure to put a spur to both Airbus and Boeing to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of its venerable narrow-body offerings before it can offer all-new aircraft which airlines would love to get their hands on sometime before I turn forty.

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