A cruel month for new aircraft and engine programs

  • David Harris
  • November 16, 2010
  • Archive

November has so far not been the best month ever for three of the aviation industry’s big players.

  • An uncontained Trent 900 engine failure on a Qantas A380 just after takeoff from Singapore led to the grounding of Qantas’ entire A380 fleet, followed by some groundings at both Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. The problem, an oil leak, appears to be widespread in the Trent 900-powered fleet and the latest reports indicate that at least thirty-two engines will have to be replaced. and that Rolls Royce has asked Airbus to return engines from its production lines so that the engine manufacturer will have enough units to do the replacements.What this will mean for the A380’s future delivery schedule is unknown, but Rolls’ stock has taken a big hit.
  • An electrical fire during a 787 test flight has brought the entire six-aircraft flight test program to a halt, as Boeing and the FAA try to determine the cause of the fire. In the best-case scenario (the fault that caused the electrical fire was unique to that particular power-distribution panel on that particular aircraft) first delivery of the 787 – already several years behind schedule – will be pushed back a few weeks. But if a redesign and retesting of the 787’s electrical system is required, the delay could be as much as eight or ten months.
  • Airbus acknowledged what many reports had already indicated – that first delivery of its A350 would slip from mid-2013 to late 2013 because the transition from design to manufacture has turned out to be more complex than expected. If this turns out to be the only delay the program suffers, Airbus can count its blessings. But recent experience with the A380 and 787 does not lend much hope to that prospect.

So, what is going on here? Have we simply reached the point where development of new aircraft and engines has become so complex and difficult that old expectations about schedules must be thrown out? And what does this imply about future new programs? Customers want a 20% cost/efficiency improvement in the next generation of narrowbodies. That is a huge jump, and the complexity of design and manufacture of both aircraft and engines required to achieve it will be enormous.

One hopes that the lessons learned during the difficulties
in the A380, 787, A350, and Trent 900 programs will enable manufacturers to bring future new programs to market more smoothly.

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