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A LEAP Into The Future: New Design Will Drive Jet Engine Production Boom

Plane makers don’t mince words about the fastest growing market in aviation. “Single-aisle aircraft remain pivotal,” declares Boeing’s long-term market view. “Over the next 20 years, we project that 23,240 single-aisle planes will be delivered, representing nearly 70 percent of commercial plane deliveries and 45 percent of total delivery value,” Boeing says.

That’s a lot of jets and at least twice as many jet engines. This is good news for engine makers like CFM International, a joint-venture between GE Aviation and Snecma. CFM makes jet engines for single-aisle planes made by Airbus, Boeing, and China’s COMAC. “We are in an industry today with a very strong future, and it’s up to us to make this happen,” CFM president Jean-Paul Ebanga said at the Farnborough International Airshow last summer.

That future is happening now. According to new numbers from CFM, workers in the U.S. and Europe produced a record 1,420 jet engines last year, the most since CFM opened for business nearly 40 years ago. The company also brought in orders valued at $23.5 billion at list price, including new orders and commitments for 898 CFM56 engines and 1,100 next-generation LEAP engines.

The total orders and commitments for the LEAP now stand at 4,500 engines. CFM expects to make 1,700 engines per year by 2019, as it ramps up LEAP production. Customers like Southwest AirlinesVirgin AmericaQantas and others have already placed orders for the new engine.

The LEAP builds on the world’s bestselling jet engine, the CFM56. (Nearly 25,000 CFM56 engines have been delivered to date.) The new engine brings to the single-aisle, short-haul market that demands durability and quick turnaround between takeoffs and landings the fuel efficiency of long-haul engines for wide-body aircraft.

GE spends more than $1 billion on jet engine R&D every year and, as a result, the LEAP is a technological marvel. New additive manufacturing techniques and 3-D woven carbon fiber composite fans help decrease engine weight. Brand new materials from GE Global Research called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) allow engineers to raise the temperature and pressure at the heart of the engine formed by the compressor, combustor and high-pressure turbine.

The new engine core (eCore, for short) provides about half the LEAP’s fuel efficiency. “What eCore means for the LEAP is that we are now going to deliver an additional 15 percent better fuel performance compared to the CFM56 baseline with the same maintenance costs and reliability, which is world class,” says Dale Carlson, manager of advanced programs at GE Aviation. “Because of our innovation, we don’t need to use complex systems such as gearboxes and other tricks.” Besides saving millions in fuel costs, the LEAP also generates fewer emissions and less noise, compared to current CFM engines.

CFM plans to start running the first full LEAP engine tests in late-2013 and start deliveries in 2016.

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