Rolls-Royce Unveils Engine for Future Boeing, Airbus Planes

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, the world’s No. 2 commercial jet-engine maker, will pursue geared turbofan technology championed by rival Pratt & Whitney as it seeks to power future Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV aircraft.

The so-called UltraFan would be available from 2025 and offer about 10 percent greater efficiency than the TrentXWB, the engine maker’s most modern turbine, said Simon Carlisle, executive vice president for future programs at Rolls-Royce’s civil aerospace division. The UltraFan would build on the so-called Advanced engine, a technology upgrade due from 2020.

“The demands of the industry are becoming much greater,” Carlisle said. “We need to make sure we don’t stand still.”

Rolls-Royce has focused on powering long-range airliners, with engines on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A380 superjumbo and the A350 that is due to begin commercial operation this year. The company has 2,500 Trent-family engines in service and orders for the same number to come.

The London-based manufacturer faces competition to power future aircraft, with General Electric Co. the exclusive provider for the Boeing 777X, the largest twin-engine plane due around 2020. Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies Corp.’s engine arm, is also seeking wide-body applications for its geared turbofan technology on narrow-bodies.

Single-Aisle Return

The new Rolls-Royce offerings are not aimed at a specific plane from Airbus or Boeing, Carlisle said. Airbus has said it is exploring re-engining programs for its A380 and A330 wide-bodies.

Rolls-Royce, which spends about 1 billion pounds ($1.7 billion) on technology research each year, will run a test engine in 2015 to help mature the 2020 powerplant, with a trial UltraFan to come toward the end of the decade, Carlisle said at the company’s civil aerospace center in Derby.

Chief Executive Officer John Rishton has made cost control a priority as the company faces a year of no growth in 2014 for the first time in a decade. The new programs will not cause a spike in capital requirements, Carlisle said.

Technologies could flow into future engines to power the more ubiquitous single-aisle market, where Rolls-Royce has retrenched after exiting the International Aero Engines joint venture led by Pratt & Whitney. Plans are being prepared to re-enter the narrow-body market “with conviction,” said Eric Schulz, Rolls-Royce president of civil large engines.

Timing of such an offering will depend on aircraft makers, he said, with Airbus unlikely to unveil a new small plane before 2025, while Boeing is also busy building its 737 Max well into the next decade.

The Chicago-based planemaker, the world’s largest, is gauging airline appetite for a medium-size transcontinental aircraft to replace its 757. Rolls-Royce would explore the opportunity to power such a plane, Schulz said.

The new wide-body engine will include technologies such as composite fan blades and casing that will save about 750 pounds in weight per turbine. Design improvements also should eliminate the need for thrust reversers.

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