Emirates Pits Rolls Against GE to Improve Airbus A380 Superjumbo

Emirates is setting up a contest between Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and a partnership of General Electric Co. and Pratt & Whitney for the contract to power 50 Airbus SAS A380s to eke better performance out of the engines.

The carrier announced the purchase of the additional superjumbos at last week’s Dubai Air Show, without specifying its choice of engines. The 90 double-decker aircraft that Emirates had previously ordered use the GP7200 model by the Engine Alliance of GE and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt.

“By opening up the campaign, it invites the manufacturers to be a little more focused on those particular engines even though they’re not selling that many of them,” Emirates President Tim Clark said in an interview today in London.

Clark, the biggest buyer of superjumbos, has been urging Airbus and suppliers to continue to improve the jet that first flew in 2005. Since the program began, engine makers have introduced a number of enhancements on other turbines that Clark said could be applied to the A380.

“We’re not going after cheaper engines, we’re after technological crossover that manifests itself in lower weight and lower fuel consumption,” Clark said at The Future of Air Transport conference in London. “We need to see them stepping up with technological changes.”

The Engine Alliance now has a 1 percent fuel-burn advantage over the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine, Clark said. The London-based engine maker “might improve the fuel consumption” after already boosting reliability, he said.

The Engine Alliance, which is exploring options for an upgrade to its GP7200, will introduce smaller part enhancements for new and existing turbines from next year to improve reliability and long-term performance, Dean Athans, the head of the consortium said last week. These should address the cause of an in-flight GP7200 shutdown Emirates experienced this year.

Rolls-Royce said previously it is working on an package of upgrades for its Trent 900 to improve the system’s performance. Clark acknowledges Rolls-Royce may not have a lot of time to react, with the first of the 50 additional A380s due in 2016. Opting for the Trent-engine would also force Emirates to operate a split fleet, he said.

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