Air Transport World

GE90: 'plowing new ground': General Electric feels that the time is right for a new family of huge engines; success of the new fan concept may be the key.

GE90: `Plowing new ground'

General Electric feels that the time is right for a new family of huge engines. Success of the new fan concept may be the key. By James P. Woolsey. Governor's Hill, Ohio--General Electric is taking what Brian Rowe, senior vice president, GE Aircraft Engines, described recently as "the opportunity to develop a new engine family ..." an opportunity that he says "only presents itself about once every 15 to 20 years." Such an event gives an engine maker the chance to combine the most modern technology into a single design, one that will "provide dramatic improvements in total performance," he says. "We believe that the market conditions expected in the mid-'90s and beyond justify the investment."

The investment is substantial. Rowe reckons that development costs for the GE90 family will run about $1.5 billion. GE is spending about $3-5 million a month on the program. The goal is to have an 85,000-lb.-thrust engine that can be certified in May, 1994 to be ready for Boeing's new 767-X, itself a new "family" of widebody twins for the mid-'90s and beyond.

The market that Rowe talks about is a major part of what engine makers and aircraft manufacturers estimate to be worth more than $600 billion in new-transport sales by the year 2005. Generally, they predict 5-6% average annual airline-traffic growth over the period. They estimate that about two thirds of the new transports will be for expansion and the remaining one third for replacement of older aircraft. Rowe estimates that in just the next 10 years, airlines might purchase up to 2,500 new transports that he feels will involve about $50 billion in engine sales.

Transport of the future

What is more interesting about the market forecasts, and more germane to the GE90 program, is the composition of the transport-sale prediction. A major part of GE's decision to "bet at least part of the store" on a major new program is the belief that the widebody twin is the transport of the future, taking over an increasing share of airline requirements up to and including some of those now served by the Boeing 747. In fact, the new engine that GE is working on so intently is big enough that two of them could have been powered the 4-engine Lockheed C-5 military transport, the first widebody design, which got GE into this business with the TF39. Two GE90s also could have been substituted for the four Pratt & Whitney JT9Ds that powered the first 747s.

Several factors are driving the industry in this direction. The biggest and most basic factor is the economy of a 2-engine, 2-place-cockpit transport. It has proved to be the most economical way to fly passengers about. A vital and later-developing factor has been the success and rapid expansion of the extended twin operations (ETOPS), which has U.S. FAA approval to permit some twin transports to wander out over the water as far as 180 min. from an airport.

This has developed chiefly because of the amazing reliability of the turbofan engine. Had someone wanted to bet you five years ago that FAA would permit airlines to fly passengers routinely between Honolulu and the U.S. mainland with 2-engine transports, you probably would have taken him up on it. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.