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Powering up

From a less than auspicious beginning, CFM International developed its CFM56 turbofan into the world’s best-selling airliner engine, as Paul E Eden finds

After an executive meeting at the 1971 Paris Air Show, General Electric and SNECMA laid the foundations for a joint venture that would become CFM International (CFMI). By 1974, the company had its first product, the CFM56, up and running, literally, but found a complete lack of customers for the new engine, even after an extensive trials programme.

Boeing recognised the engine’s potential for satisfying new, more stringent noise regulations, but its reengined 707-700 also failed to garner interest.


Ironically, United Airlines eventually chose the CFM56 to reengine part of its Douglas DC-8 fleet, providing sufficient revenue to keep the programme alive. Then the US Air Force decided that it needed a new powerplant for the majority of its massive KC-135 Stratotanker fleet; in 1980, it announced CFMI as contract winner with the F108 military equivalent of the CFM56 engine.

Boeing subsequently selected a modified CFM56 as its Model 737 adopted a high-bypass powerplant from the 737-300 onwards, offering the CFMI product as the only 737 engine option right through to the end of 737 Next Generation production. There, the CFM56 success story might have ended quite gloriously, but Airbus also offered the engine, as an alternative to the IAE V2500, on its A320 Family, in direct competition with the 737.

Today, Boeing’s 737 programme is switching over to the 737MAX, powered exclusively by CFMI’s CFM56 successor, the LEAP, which Airbus offers as an option on its A320neo Family aircraft, alongside Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G. Around 500kg lighter than the CFM56 and 15% more fuel efficient, LEAP is based on the technology developed for the core of General Electric’s GENx, designed for the 787 Dreamliner and 747-8. LEAP had already attracted more than 16,000 orders by mid-July 2018 and was galloping towards the level of success the CFM56 initially struggled to achieve. „

Four decades later

After 40 years production, CFMI is now a General Electric/Safran Aircraft Engines company, but it is still selling the CFM56 to airline customers, Hongtu Airlines and Loong Air committing to the CFM56-5B at July’s Farnborough Airshow. These were but a drop in the ocean of CFMI’s show bonanza, however, with orders and commitments for more than 850 LEAP and CFM56 engines worth, when combined with long-term services agreements, $15.7 billion at list prices.

The continuing size of the global CFM56 fleet and nascent success of the LEAP engine is also great news for the service industry. With thousands of units in operation, the CFM56 represents a rich source of revenue for MRO providers – there’s significant work to be had even from supporting specific engine models. StandardAero focuses its CFM56 expertise on the CFM56-7B as Will Findlater, Director of CFM56 Customer Programs, explains.

“We entered the CFM56 market place for a number of reasons. As we grow, we continue looking for new and larger engine platforms where we can use our decades of gas turbine expertise to add value for our customers. With the CFM56-7B, we recognised a niche in North America for an OEM-aligned, yet independently owned MRO provider. Through previous acquisition of component repair shops, we already had a significant compliment of -7B repairs available and by virtue of the size and relative youth of the 737NG fleet, we knew investment in a CFM56-7B business would provide stability for our workforce and a return on investment for our shareholders for many years to come.”

In excess of 8,000 -7Bs are currently installed in 737NGs, and the engine is also in the early stages of powering the 737NG-based P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft too. Considering that uptake alone, the engine might easily be in service 50 years hence, during which time StandardAero is likely to evolve its MRO offering to suit. “We always look for opportunities to improve the level of service our customers receive,” Findlater says.

“For existing customers that may mean offerings like fleet maintenance modelling, trend monitoring and work scope customisation. We also work closely with the OEM on the development of new repairs in an effort to lower maintenance costs.

“As with any engine platform, eventually the larger carriers will begin to replace the 737NG, presumably with the 737MAX or similar. During that transition, smaller operators with different maintenance philosophies will begin operating the engines, and more used materials will become available as aircraft are retired and torn down.

“In terms of growth, our goal is to diversify our customer portfolio. We’re looking to extend our CFM56 services to airline customers of our legacy Vector Aerospace businesses that might operate the 737NG, and we’ve begun working with the US Navy on engine services for its growing fleet of P-8 aircraft.” >>


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