Engine Alliance celebrates 20th anniversary

Engine Alliance celebrates 20th anniversary

Engine Alliance (EA) was founded 20 years ago. These days, it’s hard to imagine the world of aviation before the GP7000 built by EA, which is one of the two engine options for the Airbus A380 as it serves hub-to-hub routes all around the globe.

It marked a first in the industry when, back in the early 1990s, representatives from Pratt & Whitney and General Electric (GE) met to begin talks of a potential collaboration – a seemingly strange move, seeing as the two companies were quite clearly competitors. Rivalry aside, the next engine project in the pipeline was so big that going it alone would have been out of the question.

What initially drove the tough adversaries to join forces was the challenge of developing a new propulsion system for the Boeing 747-500 and -600 jets being proposed by the U.S. airframer at the time. At around the same time as the decision was made in Everett to shelve plans to develop the new 747s, Airbus announced the launch of the A380 program. Pratt & Whitney and GE formed a joint venture named Engine Alliance to build a propulsion system for the new Airbus superjumbo. Their product: the GP7000, one of two engine options for the aircraft. But Pratt & Whitney and GE soon came to realize they didn’t want to take on such a mammoth task alone, and so they enlisted support from MTU Aero Engines, Safran Aircraft Engines and Safran Aero Boosters as risk and revenue sharing partners.   

As is common practice in the engine business, aircraft manufacturer Airbus laid down some very exacting requirements: lower fuel burn, less noise, reduced emissions – and improved efficiency. Pratt & Whitney contributed the low-pressure system derived from the PW4000 and GE supplied the high-pressure section based on the GE90. As a result, the GP7000’s pedigree comes from two of the most successful wide-body engine programs in aviation history.

The joint venture companies selected MTU Aero Engines as a partner for the production of the high-pressure and low-pressure turbines and the turbine center frame (TCF). But, as Theodor Pregler, senior vice president, commercial programs at MTU, points out, MTU’s role was not confined to that of a production partner. “This was the first time MTU had been given design responsibility for complete engine modules – the low-pressure turbine and the turbine center frame – for an engine program as large as this one.” MTU has a 22.5-percent overall work share in the program.

Indeed, the GP7000 is large with a capital L. The colossal engine measures 4.75 meters in length, with the diameter of the fan – the first compressor stage as seen from the front of the engine – measuring 2.97 meters. The pipes that supply fuel from the tanks to the engine are as wide as a man’s upper arm. Depending on the variant, the GP7000 delivers up to 340 kilonewtons of thrust – enough to accelerate the A380 to its take-off speed even under hot and high conditions.

Since entering revenue service in 2008, the A380 has become a common sight at the world’s major airports. “The A380 is specifically designed for hub-to-hub service,” says Pregler. Anyone curious to know the exact routes GP7000-powered A380s fly can find out simply by taking a look at the map on Engine Alliance’s website. Classic routes include Abu Dhabi to New York (Etihad), Dubai to Sydney (Emirates) and Seoul to Los Angeles (Korean Air).

Some of the connections offered might seem somewhat surprising, even to the most knowledgeable industry experts. Take Paris to Abidjan, for example, or Dubai to Mauritius. Basically, what it comes down to is a sound business case: Airlines choose to operate the jets on routes where passenger demand is strong enough to fill their superjumbos.