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Longhaul legend

The General Electric CF6 large turbofan continues to be in production after 40 years. Over 7,000 engines have been delivered in that time, and an astonishing 68% of those engines are still in service today with 250 operators in 87 countries. Ian Harbison spoke to some key players in the thriving MRO market

Although the CF6 engine has been in production since 1971, Chuck Williams, CF6 product line manager at GE Aviation, says the current production rate for the engine continues to run at near the historical average of around 100 to 120 engines per year, although he expects it to tail off after the middle of this decade. The CF6-80C2 for the Boeing 767 is likely to run until at least 2020, while the CF6-80E1 for the Airbus A330 is secure for at least the next six years. Aside from these two aircraft, all the other aircraft models that use the engine are out of production, such as the Airbus A300/A310, Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and MD-11. The engine is also used on a number of military aircraft, mainly tanker and transport versions of the commercial models. One of the current military programmes is the Lockheed Martin C-5M upgrade for the USAF, which will see 52 of these giant airlifters modified over the next few years. In a case of ‘what goes around comes around’, the aircraft’s original TF39 engines are being replaced by the CF6-80C2 – the TF39 being the original starting point for GE’s development of the commercial CF6.


There has been recent sales success for new engines and support services. Since May of last year, the CF6 has racked up orders from Air Asia X (three Airbus A330-200s with two options and a 20-year OnPoint solutions agreement for MRO services), LAN (14 Boeing 767 with four options) and FedEx (27 Boeing 767-300 Freighters and a multi-year OnPoint agreement). While Boeing 767 production ticks over at two aircraft per month, the A330 is being turned out at nine per month (with a planned increase to 9.5 per month), but, he says, the company is in competition with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce, and has not achieved as many sales as the other two, with a market share around 20%.


Currently, around 30% of the CF6-80C2 fleet is covered by OnPoint agreements, but Williams says the company operates an open network to satisfy requirements, mainly with 14 large MRO providers. One key element is the use of OEM parts only. He gives the argument that only the manufacturer understands how the engine operates as a whole, although he adds that this does not stop the development of repair schemes, with 1,200 for each of the last two years, which is likely to be exceeded this year. There is a full-time engineering team for the engine that looks at reliability and durability and has doubled the time on wing over the last 15 years. They are currently evaluating a Product Improvement Program for the CF6-80C2/E1 to reduce fuel burn, but this is only at the concept stage, as it requires enough customers who plan to keep their aircraft in service long enough to get an adequate return on investment.


The company has three Centers of Excellence – GE Caledonian in Scotland, AFI KLM E&M and Evergreen Aerospace Technology (EGAT) in Taiwan.


AFI KLM E&M’s Mike Bezuijen, Product Support Director Engines, says the company performed a total of around 150 CF6 engine shop visits in 2011, of which around 20% was accounted for by the CF6-50 and 80% for CF6-80 variants. For the older CF6-50s, the volume was lower than 2010 but in line with expectations due to the fact they are coming to the end of their life. In 1Q12, there has been a rapid drop mainly due to the earlier than planned phase-out of some fleets, driven mainly by fuel prices. Early phase-outs followed by more available green time engines in the market means there is less incentive to invest in full shop visits, especially one with an uncertain future.


Additionally, AD 2012-02-07 on the CF6-50 requires repetitive on-wing borescope inspections on the high-pressure turbine (HPT) stage 1 and 2 blades, repetitive engine core vibration surveys, EGT system checks, and an ultrasonic inspection of the low-pressure turbine (LPT) stage 3 disk. For those engines that fail any borescope inspection requirements of the AD, the LPT stage 3 disk has to be removed from service. This AD has also reduced the disk life limit by 50%. The AD was prompted by seven reports of uncontained failures of LPT stage 3 disks and eight reports of cracked LPT stage 3 disks found during shop visit inspections.


This has tilted the balance in favour of the CF6-80, and this will increase in the next couple of years as the phase-out of the CF6-50 continues, especially as the CF6-80 is the most likely replacement for former CF6-50 operators. Although the CF6-80 is not a new generation engine type, AFI KLM E&M is still focussed on this type and on improving aspects like turnaround time (TAT), reliability and maximising the repair yields instead of replacing materials. It is expected to be in service for many more years and by offering tailored maintenance and availability solutions, the company expects to see a significant increase in the customer base.


Although the CF6-50 market is in decline, AFI KLM E&M still sees interesting potential in the engine. Leasing assets enables customers to avoid expensive shop visits, while the company also has a significant pool of spares. This is ideal for budgeting purposes with no risk or residual value when the operator decides on early phase-out of an aircraft.


The CF6-80 MRO market is very competitive, but AFI KLM E&M is a global player in the top league, and by combining operational knowledge with continuous improvements on repair development and maintenance costs solutions/guarantees, it will be able to stay in this position. In the near future, when Boeing 787 deliveries are up to speed, it is likely that the majority of older 767s will come onto the market. Not all of their CF6-80 engines will find another life on wing, and part out will be the alternative, creating lots of opportunities to further decrease shop visit costs. Where normally repair has advantage over replacement, this will open discussion as material prices will surely decrease again.


For Lufthansa Technik, including LTQ Engineering, its Australian joint venture (JV) with Qantas, it handled around 80 CF6-80 in 2011 and expects the same number this year. The company has seen a change from the CF6-80C2A to the CF6-80C2B, reflecting a shift in aircraft types from the Airbus A300 and A310 to the Boeing 747 and 767. The number of engines and shop visits on the CF6-80E1 product is still increasing, but is still low compared to the -C2B market, of which the barrier for market entry is high.

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