The General ElectricSafran joint venture already enjoys a close relationship with Boeing as exclusive power supplier for the 737. Although meeting Boeing’s 45,000 to 50,000 pounds-plus thrust requirement pushes the long-standing GE-Safran CFM agreement to the upper edge of its power limits, and possibly even beyond, the CFM approach remains GE’s preferred solution.

“The thrust is moving anywhere between the high 40s and low 50s (1,000s of pounds thrust) so, as the CFM agreement goes up to 50,000 pounds of thrust, this thing is right there, so it’s a natural act for us,” says GE Aviation president and CEO David Joyce. So, would GE (Static Display) and Safran (Chalet 6) broaden the agreement to cover this higher thrust bracket beyond 50,000 pounds if necessary? “Yes, we would just agree that we would extend the agreement to include this product line,” he adds.

“I think Philippe [Petitcolin, Safran CEO] and I would both look at that as being the avenue to the marketplace if we both agree that the business case works for us,” says Joyce.

Following Boeing’s requirement for a low risk with no new untried technology, CFM is believed to be proposing a direct-drive design based on a combination of the Leap and features from GE’s GEnx and GE9X, the latter currently undergoing certification tests for Boeing’s 777X.

Although CFM declines to comment, the design is thought to incorporate a scaled Leap high-pressure core, a version of GE’s low-emissions twin-annular pre-swirl combustor, additively manufactured components, titanium aluminide in the low-pressure turbine and lightweight, heat-resistant ceramic matrix composites in the hot section.

The fan case and fan will be made from composites and be the largest yet made by Safran, which is responsible for the low-pressure elements under the CFM alliance. However, given the bigger scale, it is likely the fan blades will be made from carbon-fiber composites used by the GE-Safran CFAN joint venture for the GE90, GEnx and GE9X, rather than the 3-D-woven resin transfer molding approach used for the smaller Leap. The move will require additional investment, which the French government is thought to be eager to support.

GE may also have strengthened its arm for the NMA bid by recently testing a compact thrust reverser on Boeing’s latest ecoDemonstrator, a modified 777F. The new reverser design enables a shorter aft nacelle, reducing drag, weight, fuel consumption and emissions, and complements the short-duct inlet which Boeing plans for the NMA to mitigate the weight and drag effects of the aircraft’s higher-bypass-ratio engines. 

Although Boeing vowed never to repeat the cost of certifying three engine choices after the 747-400 and original 777-200/300 programs, it may bend to market pressure and repeat the 787’s dual source model.