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Monday, April 28, 2008

Airbus, Pratt Join to Test GTF

At a time when some are questioning the Geared Turbo-Fan, Airbus and Pratt & Whitney partnered to flight test the engine on an Airbus-owned A340 flying test bed. In a recent press briefing, Embaer Executive Vice President Commercial Aircraft Mauro Kern indicated that the geared turbo fan is not being studied by other engine makers. Related Story  The engine is already slated for Bombardier’s proposed CSeries and Mitsubishi’s MRJ. Related Story
The Airbus/P&W flight testing will provide first-hand experience with the performance of the Geared Turbofan engine, which targets double-digit improvements in fuel burn, environmental emissions, engine noise and operating costs. The Airbus testing will begin in the fourth quarter of this year and will follow Pratt & Whitney's own ground and flight test program.
"Testing the Geared Turbofan engine throughout its entire operating envelope using the Airbus A340 flight test aircraft, combined with the tremendous experience of the Airbus flight test team, will provide us with valuable installation and operating data to further evaluate the performance of this new engine architecture,” said Todd Kallman, president of Pratt & Whitney Commercial Engines.
Pratt & Whitney's Geared Turbofan demonstrator engine recently began Phase II ground testing at the company's advanced test facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. Phase II of the ground test program will focus on engine performance and acoustic characteristics with a flight-capable nacelle system prior to mid-year flight testing. The Geared Turbofan demonstrator engine has logged approximately 150 hours since ground testing began in November 2007.
The testing could have implications for the CSeries and MRJ as well as the current A320 family, according to Regional Aviation News sister publication Aircraft Value News. “The GTF, while featuring a number of moving parts which could have negative performance implications, offers the promise of lower operating costs, much sought after in the current climate,” said Editor Paul Leighton in his latest issue.
He noted both Airbus and Boeing have recently suggested that a narrow-body replacement will not be available for perhaps another decade. “The development of the CSeries and the MRJ powered by the GTF suggest that alternatives at the lower end of the seating scale will be available much sooner, within five years, posing a problem for Airbus and Boeing alike,” he said. “In any event, the aviation industry may not have the luxury of selecting its own timetable for a replacement should the regulatory authorities push for more environmentally friendly products to be introduced as soon as possible by means of economic penalties.”
Airbus, Leighton noted, stated that “the tests do not imply either a technological or a business decision on future product developments.” However, when Airbus is combating a weak dollar, expenditure on the flight testing of an engine in which it has no interest is a costly exercise, he said.
The GTF could be used as an interim solution to the eventual replacement of the A320 family. An upgrade to the A320, rather than a replacement, would provide breathing space until a more advanced engine can be developed. Such a move would create problems for Boeing as the manufacturer has a long standing relationship with CFMI in supplying engines for the B737 series. A switch to Pratt & Whitney, even as an interim solution, will not be favored.
Leighton also noted there are considerable obstacles to using the GTF on all A320 family members, not least the A321. While development of the GTF is advanced, the power rating of the engine is still at the low end of the power range. Nonetheless, he added, waiting 10 years or more for a new engine is a long time when there are pressures associated with an ageing product life cycle, desire for lower operating costs, and environmental concerns.
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