Rolls-Royce Considers UltraFan Development Pause
Rolls-Royce is indicating development of its next-generation UltraFan engine could be temporarily put on ice following completion of the on-going demonstrator program in 2022—pending the recovery of the international air transport market and the launch of new or re-engined airliner initiatives.
First announced in 2014, the engine forms a pivotal element of Rolls-Royce’s future civil propulsion strategy and was initially targeted at entry-into-service around 2025. However, this timeline was pushed back to later this decade following the cancellation of potential applications such as Boeing’s new midmarket airplane (NMA), and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on other new aircraft projects under study by Airbus and Boeing.
Prior to the pandemic, Rolls had already been forced before to reset its sights on longer term, more uncertain launch prospects for the UltraFan, such as all-new single aisle designs or re-engined Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 concepts. Now the engine maker—having suffered more than its key competitors because of its greater reliance on the badly hit international airline sector—is acknowledging that it may have to put further UltraFan development work on hold as it awaits a more general market recovery.
Commenting in the Financial Times, Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East said that although work on the demonstrator engine will continue through 2022, longer term investment will likely be halted until realistic market opportunities emerge. In line with the slowdown, East also says Rolls is postponing any efforts to find potential partners to collaborate on full-scale industrial development, particularly for the infrastructure investment required for the mass production volumes associated with single-aisle projects.
The engine maker also acknowledges that the timeline for the demonstrator itself has slowed because of the disruption caused by the pandemic. Assembly of the initial engine is, however, getting underway and testing is now expected to get underway around the end of 2021 or early in 2022. Rated at 84,000 lb. thrust, the engine will incorporate a 140-in. diameter composite fan, gearbox and an all-new core. Several engines are due to join the ground test effort, which will likely continue to run beyond 2022 as part of the already budgeted demonstrator program.
Rolls, in response to a query from Aviation Week, said that despite the slowdown it remains “firmly committed to developing a next-generation gas turbine that will reduce emissions by 25% compared to the first generation of Trent. We have relentlessly invested in the UltraFan technology program, which has applicability from 25,000 to 100,000 lb. thrust and can be purposed for both narrowbody and widebody programs.”
In the longer-term Rolls said the “eventual timing of UltraFan’s entry into service will be dependent on aircraft manufacturers’ requirements. We remain committed to having a product available to the market at the turn of the decade, but in the post-testing phase we will continue to monitor customer requirements going forward, particularly given the impact of COVID-19. If this requires us to re-phase the program, then we would do so.”