Air Transport World

A fan for the century. (GE Aircraft Engines' GE90)

Even the third-place finisher can expect a hefty payout, a good return, in such a large market. But the winner, ah, the winner will be in the catbird seat, sitting pretty and amply bankrolled into the middle of the 21st century.

Last year GE was worried about overcoming two key obstacles in its GE90 program-the hand it's playing in the big-engine card game-one obstacle commercial the other technical ATW, 11/90). Right before the Paris Air Show, GE got news about its technical concern when the composite fan-blade design survived simulated bird strikes in fine form. Delaminations were minimal and did not propagate, GE said.

The company had been building a titanium fan in parallel with the composite fan as insurance against a disaster reminiscent of Rous-Royce's composite RB211 fan failure that drove that company into bankruptcy and doomed the Lockheed L-1011 to play catch-up with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The fan news has been so good of late for GE that Ronaid E. Welsch, general manager of the GE90 program, told ATW: "Our confidence level has been enhanced so much we think we can draw that [titanium fan] program to a close."

Late summer brought GE good news about the commercial concern when-by hook, crook or a deep, deep, pocketbook-it landed a launch customer. And what a launch customer it is. Snatching British Airways from under the nose of hometown favorite Rolls-Royce not only was a commercial coup that launched the GE90 while denying Rolls one of its largest traditional customers, for GE, it also was sweet revenge for the soured large-engine collaboration with Rolls in the early 1980s. That venture was ruined, according to GE, when the British side of the partnership tried to play both sides of the street.

And the cost of that order to GE? "Launchings are never inexpensive" said Welsch. "When you're in this business, you're in it for the long term. It's always better to sen than not sell" despite vanishing profits engine sales, Welsch said. "Engines use spare parts for 20 or 30 years-it's a long-cycle business."

No prices have been announced in the BA deal other than the cost of GE's purchase of BA's engine-overhaul facility in Wales. At $460 million, the purchase price is more than twice what Pratt & Whitney is said to have offered. …

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