It’s been a unique and remarkable decade for aerospace, says GE Aviation president and CEO David Joyce. Unprecedented investment and transformational advances in technology, materials and manufacturing have resulted in new aircraft, new engines, record backlogs and a new supply chain.

“I don’t think we can keep this pace going forward,” says Joyce. But then he adds, “I would be crazy to say there’s nothing else coming!

“Behind our closed doors are some phenomenal developments you won’t see for many years, with large disruptive potential in the long term for how we think of transportation in the future.

“We’re excited about disruptive technology. We’re looking for opportunities to disrupt ourselves before being disrupted by someone else. We have a whole team working on that every day!”

Joyce won’t give much away except to say, “We’re all working on electrification of aviation. Hybrid propulsion really turns on the efficiency of generating the power. From batteries to generators, power distribution, switching, there will be more advancement.”

Much of that will be developed within GE’s different industries and research labs around the world, and made available to GE Aviation through what is known as the GE Store. This, says Joyce, is a very powerful way to develop, share and distribute cutting-edge technologies without paying for them more than once. “We can take them and apply them as we digitize our whole industrial business,” he says. All divisions contribute to the GE Store: aviation, power generation, health care, renewable energy, oil and gas, transportation and lighting.

“I love shopping in the GE Store,” says Joyce. He recently came back with facial-recognition software that GE Aviation applied to speed up by 20 times the inspection of turbine blades. “I would never have invested in that myself.” 

Unprecedented Commercial Cycle

July 19 marks the industry’s entry into service of the first significant additive manufacturing 3-D printed part in a commercial engine – the fuel nozzles in a LEAP on a Pegasus Airlines Airbus A320. But that achievement is almost old news.

While airplanes have rapidly incorporated carbon composite structures, the next engines are undergoing their own revolution with parts made from ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), 3-D printing-additive manufacturing, and exotic metals such as titanium aluminide. The next significant step: GE Aviation will incorporate rotating parts made from CMCs in its future military production engines.

In an unprecedented commercial cycle, GE Aviation invested US$7.6 billion of its own money between 2010 and 2016 on the GEnx engine (more than 1,000 have now been delivered for the Boeing 787 and 747-800), to certify the LEAP 1A and 1B for the A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX respectively, and to run the first two GE9X engines for the Boeing 777X.

The world will likely see few new airliners developed over the next few years, says David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation. Which is perhaps just as well, as it allows him to execute the ramp-up in engine production that will boost GE’s installed base by 27%, from 36,000 engines to 46,000 by 2020. The company will have a backlog of 15,000 commercial jet engines on order by year-end.

“For me, the first technology that required us to be responsible for our supply chain and manufacturing was the composite fan with titanium leading edge [on the GE90],” says Joyce. “That caused us to rethink our supply chain.” Now GE Aviation has its own factories for CMC raw materials, additive manufacturing and titanium aluminide, with investments in the manufacturing base approaching US$4 billion.

Experience here will enable GE to push materials development to the next levels in military engine programs while assuring the Department of Defense that the manufacture of exotic materials is mature and commonplace in the commercial arena.

Meanwhile, the latest technologies from commercial jet engines (and US$1 billion in investment) are being applied to developing a 1,300- to 2,000-shp advanced turboprop engine at GE Aviation’s Prague center. “That project has technologies it could never afford itself,” says Joyce, from the LEAP and GE9X engines. “That’s the leveragability of technology.”

Fast Facts for 2015

• GE Aviation industrial backlog: US$153.88 billion

(services account for IS$118.6 billion)

• GE Aviation revenues: US$25 billion

• Commercial engines: US$7.8 billion

• Commercial engine services: US$10.1 billion

• Military engines & services: US$3.7 billion

• Engines in service: 62,000 commercial and military