China’s aerospace manufacturing development is increasingly engaging in tighter partnerships with Western aerospace companies as it pursues development of its new C919 narrowbody. AVIC announced late last week that it is in negotiations with two “major” engine manufacturers, whose identities were not revealed. The announcement comes on top of a JV between AVIC and GE signed last week to develop avionics, which will focus on the new 160-190 seat narrowbody, currently under development by COMAC.
75-80% of the components in the C919 will reportedly be sourced from Western companies or produced in partnership with Western firms. COMAC reportedly intends to reduce this to approximately 50% as the programme matures.
The engine for the aircraft will be a major part of this. AVIC has made it clear that it wants to develop an indigenous engine for the C919, but COMAC has conceded that Western engines will initially power the aircraft. Shanghai-based AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engines (ACAE) plans to have a powerplant, the SF-A, running by 2016. But certification could take up to a year, or perhaps longer.
Given the current development timeframe for the C919 (test flight in 2014 and commercial service by 2106), and the fact that China has had major problems getting a reliable civil jet engine into production, it is no surprise that COMAC and AVIC are turning to the West to get an advanced engine for the C919 ready in time for its launch.
Western engine manufacturers have made abundantly clear their intention to power the C919. Pratt & Whitney (P&W) confirmed earlier in the year that it is in talks with Chinese parties about powering the C919, preferably through the International Aero Engines consortium. IAE is owned by P&W and Rolls-Royce (32.5% each), with a 12% share owned by MTU Aero Engines and a 23% share controlled by the Japanese Aero Engines Corporation.
P&W's new geared turbofan engine is also an option under discussion for the C919. The engine is expected to be certified around 2013.
CFM International, a JV between Safran parent, Snecma, and GE, hopes to offer its new LEAP-X engine for the C919. The programme was launched in late 2008, and CFM hopes the engine can be certified by 2016, although development may be accelerated to ensure that it is available to power the C919.
Of the major engine manufacturers, Rolls-Royce was flat in trading on Friday, while MTU Aero Engines gained 0.7%.
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