Tight ground clearance dictated the slightly flattened bottom of the LEAP 1-B engine for the 737 Max. (Boeing)
The advanced Leap 1-B jet engine powering Boeing’s 737 Max has been certified by U.S. and European authorities, a major milestone for Boeing’s best-selling jet.
Engine builder CFM International announced the Federal Aviation Administration approval Wednesday, pointing to engine results in early operations.“We couldn’t be happier with the way this engine is performing,” said Francois Bastin, executive vice president of CFM International in a statement. “Boeing is racking up an impressive number of flight hours with the test aircraft, and initial indications are that engine performance is meeting expectations.”
The certification is another thumbs up for the Renton-based 737 Max program, which has been hitting milestones and has been virtually glitch free.
“ Max looks like a very well-run program on the air frame side and engine side, and reinforced the possibility that maybe they’ll even be early,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. “They’ve been doing great. Their story is they learned a lot for the 787, and that might well be true.”
However, analysts point out that the more-efficient engine may still exhibit flaws in actual service, just as the competing Pratt and Whitney geared turbofan engine passed certification but turned out to have difficulties in hot climates.
Airlines have been upset enough with the unexpected GTF problems that Qatar Airways wouldn't accept the first A320neos at all until the issue is fixed, and Lufthansa was using the jets only in limited applications.
“There could still be some problems that only surface after the engines are in regular airline use,” said Hans Weber, president of Tecop International Inc. in San Diego.
Both engine makers have been driving for higher fuel efficiency, with the LEAP 1-B burning 15 percent less fuel than the CFM International engine Boeing uses for current 737 Next Generation models.The Boeing 737 Max uses only the Leap-1B engine, while the competing Airbus A320neo offers another version of the Leap engine, or the troubled Pratt and Whitney geared turbo fan engine.
Engineers used a variety of technologies to squeeze more efficiency from the Leap 1-B, including special ceramic matrix composites that can withstand higher heat inside the engine, and updated fans and fuel combusters. But the core design of the engine has remained a relatively straightforward turbofan engine, unlike the geared turbo fan, which uses a system of gears to slow the fan for more efficiency.
“We’ve never seen such a divergence in propulsion, we just haven’t. Two people taking extremely different roads to what they think is the same place,” Aboulaifa said. “That’s going to be very interesting to watch. It’s almost too different to believe.”
(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business Journal)