“We are starting to have conversations with them [Rolls]) about joint technology programs—everything is on the table,” says Hess. Commenting on IAE and the Engine Alliance, Hess also notes that “these relationships have worked well for us. The GP7200 has been very successful.”
Rolls declined to comment in response to questions over Hess's perspective.
For those looking for clues, there are few, if any, hints from history to see how this might turn out. The 777X engine situation is uniquely different from anything before it. Unlike 22 years ago, when Boeing asked the three engine makers to bid for the original 777, this is a major derivative that the aircraft maker has yet to officially launch, let alone set a firm target for entry into service. Boeing says only that it is aimed at service entry “around the end of the decade.”
Furthermore, Boeing's request for information from the three engine manufacturers calls for demanding performance without even the guarantee that the 777X will be offered with a choice of engines. Regardless of the pure marketing merits of teaming to compete for the 777X, industry insiders say fundamental questions remain over the highly uncertain possibility of Rolls and Pratt being able to agree on a common architecture. The recent spate of technology programs under Rolls's Advance 3 future turboshaft plan points to the continued evolution of advanced, conventional big-fan engines.
This would make the adoption of Pratt's geared architecture extremely unlikely, placing an insurmountable hurdle in the path of such a plan. Furthermore, industry sources ask what Rolls might hope to gain by linking with Pratt in such a way, while simultaneously questioning if a teaming of this nature would even be permissible under international monopoly and merger rules.
General Electric, as incumbent and sole-source engine provider on the extended-range 777-200LR and -300ER models from which the 777X will be derived, is going all-out to protect its turf. The company is developing and testing the first elements of an all-new engine dubbed the GE9X, regardless of the uncertain status of the 777X.
GE Aircraft Engines President David Joyce says: “Boeing has the right to ask all three of us [engine makers] to come in with proposals. The calling card of GE is the technology we're developing for the GE9X. We are in the technology-capture business with the GEnx, [in production for 787 and 747-8] and regardless of when the 777X comes into service, nothing will change our technology-capture plans.”
Bill Fitzgerald, GE Commercial Engines vice president and general manager, says the first GE9X compressor rig is scheduled to run in the first quarter of 2013 “independent of Boeing's timeline, with first core run in 2015 and first engine to test in 2016.”
“We've been working hard with the engine companies,” says Nicole Piasecki, Boeing Commercial Airplanes development and strategic integration vice president. “When you have the level of investment we are spending, we have to know about all the technology that's out there. We also have to consider all the commercial scenarios that are out there.”
Although widely viewed as GE's project to lose, times have changed since 1999 when Boeing agreed to give exclusivity to the Ohio-based engine maker for the longer-range 777 derivatives. At the time, neither Rolls nor Pratt could compete technically with the composite-fanned GE90 growth version. Since then, Rolls has dramatically advanced its capabilities, as witnessed by the development of the Trent XWB, while Pratt is feeling more bullish than ever thanks to the fast-growing success of its PW1000G geared turbofan family.