The airline launched CFM International’s advanced LEAP engine with an order to power 30 new Airbus A320neo aircraft, to be delivered to Virgin America...

Virgin America has become the launch customer for the new LEAP turbofan engine, to be manufactured by the CFM International joint venture between General Electric and France’s Snecma.

The airline launched CFM International’s advanced LEAP engine with an order to power 30 new Airbus A320neo aircraft, to be delivered to Virgin America from 2016. The carrier also announced that CFM’s existing CFM56-5B engine will power 30 current-technology A320s it has on order. Virgin America’s existing A319s and A320s are all powered by CFM56-5Bs.

Airbus announced Virgin America’s order for 60 aircraft in January. CFM International says the engine orders have a combined value of approximately $1.4 billion at list price.

“As a young and growing airline, we credit much of our success to having the right equipment, and choosing LEAP to power our A320neos is right in line with our long-term strategy,” says Virgin America President and CEO David Cush.

“With LEAP, Virgin America is getting the best of all possible worlds:  the industry’s most advanced technology – with all of the benefits that represents – as well as the consistency and inherent reliability of a CFM product,” adds Cush. “We also know that the company’s reputation for meeting its commitments is unrivaled and this latest move will help us continue to fuel growth and success in the North American market.”

On January 17, 2011, Virgin America became the first firm-order customer for the Airbus A320neo with an order for 30 aircraft. On June 15, 2011, Virgin America selected CFM International's new LEAP engine to power its A320neos, becoming the launch customer for the engine

CFM International says LEAP engines will incorporate revolutionary technologies never before seen in the single-aisle aircraft segment. The new engine combines advanced aerodynamic design techniques, lighter, more durable materials, and leading-edge environmental technologies and CFM International claims the LEAP engine will represent a major breakthrough in engine technology.

The joint venture says the LEAP engine will offer 15 per cent better engine fuel efficiency than current CFM56 engines, translates to as much as $1.6 million in fuel cost savings for customers per airplane, per year, at current fuel prices. CFM says LEAP technology will also achieve 15 per cent improvements in CO2 emissions and 15 decibels, while its combustor technology will reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a greenhouse gas, by 50 per cent compared to current requirements.

CFM also says the LEAP engine will provide the industry’s best reliability and lowest maintenance costs, a claim that Pratt & Whitney, CFM International’s competitor on the Airbus A320neo with its PurePower PW1133G geared-turbofan engine will dispute.

Announced just before the Paris Airshow begins on June 20, the Virgin America order interrupts a chain of order successes that Pratt & Whitney had been chalking up for the PW1133G on the A320neo. Lufthansa has ordered PW1133G engines for the 30 A320neos it has on order, while Indian carrier IndiGo said in late March that it would order PW1133Gs to power 150 A320neos for which it has signed a memorandum of understanding.

International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) ordered PW1133Gs to power 60 of the 100 A320neos it has ordered, though Bloomberg reports ILFC now indicates it is likely to order the CFM International LEAP engine to power the remaining 40. Until now, only Virgin America and Brazilian airline TAM (which has ordered 22 A320neos) had not yet announced an engine choice for their aircraft.

Airbus has chosen the new Pratt & Whitney engine family, due to enter service in 2013 with the Bombardier CSeries in the form of the PW1524G, as the lead development engine for the A320neo. PW PurePower-family engines have also been chosen to power the Mitsubishi MRJ 100-seater and Russia’s Irkut MS-21 150-to-180-seater, while China’s COMAC has selected the LEAP engine to power its 150-plus seat C919 narrowbody now under development.

As part of its LEAP-engine development testing, CFM began testing its eCore Demonstrator 2 in late May at GE facilities in Ohio, one month ahead of schedule. The eCore Demo 2 features a 10-stage high-pressure compressor and two-stage high-pressure turbine, along with a lean burn, low emissions twin-annular, pre-swirled (TAPS) combustor.

At the same time, says CFM, it is close to completing a 5,000-cycle endurance test program for the advanced 3-D Woven Resin Transfer Molding (3-DW RTM) fan for the LEAP engine, along with the composite fan case being developed by Snecma.

With a base of more than 500 customers, and more than 22,200 engines delivered, CFM has completed 21 engine/aircraft certifications on time and on specification.  Since the first A320 was launched in 1985, CFM56 engines have been selected to power nearly 60 per cent of all A320-family aircraft.