Airbus opened a new chapter in passenger travel this morning when European and American regulators issued a key certification to its next-generation Airbus A320neo plane powered by a pair of advanced LEAP-1A jet engines.
The ruling, called type certification, from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) essentially clears the runway for the delivery of the first A320neo equipped with the LEAP engine to an airline customer in the middle of 2016.
The approval is a milestone both for Airbus and CFM International, the 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines that developed the LEAP engine.
The LEAP is the first jet engine that includes fuel nozzles 3D-printed from a superalloy, carbon-composite fan blades woven from the ground up, parts from light- and heat-resistant supermaterial called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and a unique debris rejection system.
The new technologies help make the LEAP 15 percent more fuel efficient than the best engines in CFM’s portfolio and reduce its carbon emissions by double digits.
Airlines seem to love the engine, too. CFM has received orders for more than 11,000 LEAP engines valued at $150 billion from more than 50 global carriers. Other versions of the LEAP will also power Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC C919 planes.
The planes will be a key part of the single-aisle aircraft market serving passengers on short and medium haul routes across the US, Europe, and Asia. Airbus estimates the market will be by far the largest and fastest-growing aviation segment, adding 22,900 new planes by 2034, or 70 percent of all new passenger jets. Much of that growth — 39 percent — will take place in Asian countries like Indonesia, it predicts.
The LEAP-1A engine flew for the first time on the A320neo on May 19, 2015, and Airbus added a second test plane in September of last year. Overall, these two jets have accumulated more than 1,000 flight hours in more than 350 flights. To ensure a smooth entry into service, this number includes 150 flight hours completed with essentially the same aircraft that will soon start ferrying paying passengers.
The A320neo isn’t the only Airbus jet using the LEAP. In February, its was also the first engine to power the A321neo. That plane is currently powering through flight tests.