Rolls-Royce Poised To Miss The Narrowbody Market?

Company could be playing catch up for at least a decade or more.
COMMENT, Business Trends

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There’s no doubt that Rolls-Royce has been sleeping by the wayside as rival engine makers CFM International and Pratt & Whitney tout their new(er) generation propulsion units to airplane OEMs.

As part of the IAE engine consortium, it is equally of little surprise that Rolls-Royce continues to deride the Pratt & Whitney GTF engine as the U.K. engine maker is known to prefer an open rotor solution for the next generation of narrowbodies that could theoretically deliver over twice as much better fuel burn than the LEAP-X and GTF.

There is ample empirical evidence to support Rolls-Royce’s indignation at the GTF since it is a four decade old concept that was costly to remedy then and is no less a pricier and complicated engine today laden with just as much risk – likewise, CFM International scoffed Pratt & Whitney’s claims by showing results of their own geared turbofan work from the 1970s and explained how inefficient it was – drawing direct parallels to the GTF engine that is being developed today.

Clearly, Rolls-Royce has its eyes on the 787 program and the A350XWB, the latter upon which it has a default monopoly and with widebody deliveries due to surge within the next decade, it’s easy to see why they are prepared to forgo the narrowbody segment and dismiss re-engining propositions by saying they “can’t make the business case work.”

On the flip side, the narrowbody segment is bigger and will account for a higher dollar-value in sales – has Rolls-Royce sat on the sidelines for a little too long?

More than likely it seems.

Pratt & Whitney doesn’t want to share the GTF technology with the IAE consortium and Airbus won’t entertain the GTF on the A320 without IAE, leaving the LEAP-X as a clear candidate for the re-engine game at Airbus.

While Boeing looks to a new 737 family ahead of re-engining, Rolls-Royce is left holding onto orders for the IAE engines which won’t last forever. Stepping into the game now would be too risky and without a platform either, it’s a cost that the engine maker may not want to bear and instead focus on the Trent 900, Trent 1000 and Trent XWB families.

Until the two key problems of open rotor are combated (installation and blade-out containment), Rolls-Royce is in for a very long wait before it can feature on a narrowbody family – they may have little choice but to sit this cycle out.

This column was written by FBE Aerospace analyst Saj Ahmad, the views expressed are his own.