US giants join up on Boeing engine

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The Independent Online
In an unprecedented move the world's two biggest aircraft engine manufacturers, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney of the US, are to join forces to develop a new engine to power a 500-600 seater version of the Boeing 747.

This is first time that the two giant American manufacturers have combined on a civil engine programme and poses a serious competitive threat to their British rival Rolls-Royce.

The two US companies said yesterday that neither was prepared to fund the estimated $2bn (pounds 1.3bn) cost of developing a new engine on its own. Boeing, which has code-named its super-Jumbo the 747-500X/600X, was instrumental in getting GE and P&W to explore a joint programme.

The new engine will have a thrust range of between 72,000 and 84,000 lbs but would offer significantly lower operating costs than existing engines, the two companies said.

GE and P&W would offer the new engine not only on the stretched version of the Boeing 747 but also on rival aircraft being planned by the European consortium Airbus Industrie and McDonnell Douglas of the US, which is studying a stretched version of the MD-11.

Under an agreement signed yesterday, GE and P&W will set up a separate join venture company, owned 50:50, to develop and market the new engine. Although they will be prepared to bring on board other risk- and revenue- sharing partners from around the world, management control will remain with the two US partners.

In a joint statement GE and P&W said the new engine would offer substantially better weight, fuel burn, noise and cash operating costs.

The market for 500-seater- plus aircraft is put by Airbus at more than 800, worth about $200bn over the next 20 years. Its own super-Jumbo, codenamed the A3XX, would cost $8bn to $12bn to develop and would be a double-decker aircraft with a wingspan and length of 80 metres. It is unlikely to be launched before 1998.

The announcement of the joint venture is a recognition that individual aero-engine companies can no longer fund the huge costs of development programmes alone, even if they are of the size of GE.

Separately, GEC-Marconi has been selected by Boeing to provide avionics and electronic management systems for the next generation fighter jet it is developing for theUS Department of Defense. The Joint Strike Fighter programme is intended to produce a succesor for the Marine Corps Harrier AV-8b, the US Airforce F-16 and the US Navy's carrier-based F/A-18 fighter.