The Engine Alliance and Rolls-Royce are studying new or modified propulsion options for the Airbus A380 after calls for longer-term improvements in fuel burn by Emirates Airlines, the biggest operator of the aircraft.

The airline has targeted a 10% fuel burn improvement, possibly to be introduced with at least some of the 50 A380s ordered by Emirates at this week’s Dubai air show. Speaking to Aviation Week, Emirates president Tim Clark says “the 380 needs to get the benefit of what is going on in the mid-sized fans and the twins. To leave the 380 in the position where it isn’t [improved] doesn’t make any sense.” Although the General Electric-Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7200 has been selected for the first 90 Emirates A380s, the airline plans to compete the additional 50, the first of which is currently expected to be delivered around 2016.

Although both Rolls and the Engine Alliance have improved the fuel burn of the current A380 engines over time, Clark says a more radical improvement would boost the operating economics of the aircraft into the future, keeping it competitive with the new generation of large twins. He believes the engine makers could pick and choose from a raft of technology either developed or still in works for the 787, 747-8, 777X and A350 families over the past decade. The A380 “came to market in 2004-2005. A lot has changed,” he says. Referring to the General Electric GE9X in initial development for the 777X and the Rolls Trent XWB under test for the A350, Clark says options could include “a smaller version of the 9X. It could be a smaller version of the Trent.”

Rolls says “it continues to study all options and is constantly working with Airbus” on prospective engine solutions. However program sources indicate a variety of options are under evaluation ranging from scaled ‘light’ derivatives of the Trent XWB, to an adapted variant of the Trent 1000TEN in early development for the Boeing 787-10. The manufacturer is also believed to be reviewing designs based on the RB.3025, an all-new engine configuration which lost out to the GE9X in the contest to power the newly-launched 777X.

“Tim Clark has made statements and he’d like to see a new engine and performance improvements,” says Engine Alliance President Dean Athans. “We’re working with our engineering team and we’ve asked them to put together a whole suite ranging from little things to longer term, more substantive changes to create a whole option list of things we could do to the engine. We have to evaluate what options make sense and what doesn’t. Next year we will take a good look at that and study the options.” The study ranges from software changes and minor component modifications to an all-new centerline engine, and will consider trade-offs such as timing, cost, the needs of the industry and the need of the fleets. “I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” he says.