Beoing’s new 797 mid-sized jetliner could be powered by advanced Rolls-Royce UltraFan engines, according to statements made by the British engineering giant’s CEO, Warren East, at the company’s annual meeting.
Working on the project would give Rolls an edge as it battles to survive the Covid crisis. It currently only supplies engines for large aircraft.
Rapid advances in technology mean that smaller planes can increasingly fly long-haul routes, meaning jumbo planes will be needed far less in the coming years.
During Rolls-Royce’s annual meeting, East was quoted to have said:
“It is fairly well documented that Boeing is exploring the opportunity for a new aircraft…like the other engine manufacturers, I am sure, we are in dialog with Boeing about that.”
East said the company’s engines spent 60% less time in the air during the first four months of 2021 than in the same period of 2019, before the pandemic hit.
“We faced unprecedented challenges in 2020 with events that were beyond our control,” East said.
The company hopes that this impressive UltraFan powerplant will power both widebody and narrowbody aircraft – versatility that would match the nature of Boeing’s NMA (new midsize airplane) anticipated to be designated the 797.
This is a sharp turnaround from 2019 when Rolls-Royce withdrew its bid to supply powerplants for Boeing’s NMA. Media reports at the time suggest Rolls-Royce believed its UltraFan engine would not be ready in time.
With Boeing hit hard by the 737 MAX crisis and then the global health crisis, priorities have been shuffled around.
Indeed, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun decided to return to the drawing board after taking the top position at the company, opting to start clean.
In January 2020, the company chief said the following during an earnings call:
“Since the first clean sheet of paper was taken to it, things have changed a bit … the competitive playing field is a little different … We’re going to start with a clean sheet of paper again — I’m looking forward to that.”
It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to suspect that other respected engine makers such as General Electric (GE) and Pratt & Whitney (PW) are also currently in talks.
Boeing has hinted at building a new plane for years that would sit between its 737 MAX single-aisle and 787 Dreamliner wide-body, but it hasn’t settled on any plan that it’s made public.
The crisis that followed two crashes and a worldwide grounding of the MAX interrupted its initial plans for the midrange plane, and the coronavirus pandemic has since roiled the marketplace.
In the meantime, chief rival Airbus SE has racked up orders with its A321neo, a plane that sits virtually unopposed in that space.
Toulouse, France-based Airbus said this week that the A321 variant now accounts for more than half its backlog in the A320 family.
Sources: ThisIsMoney, SimpleFlying, Bloomberg, Reuters, Gulf News, LiveMint.com