Rolls-Royce Plc plans to pause its UltraFan geared-turbofan jet engine program after the current testing phase is finished in 2022, according to its CEO, in a published interview. The engineering group reportedly has invested about £500 million (about $680 million) in the development it introduced almost seven years ago, but now it plans to wait until a new series of narrow-body commercial jets is introduced before proceeding with the effort.
“We absolutely intend to . . . complete the phase we are in at the moment, which is to create and fully test our demonstrator,” CEO Warren East explained to the Financial Times. “But at that point, we will put the thing on ice. I can’t force airframe manufacturers to invent new airplanes and if there is no demand for them then there is no demand for the engines.”
In 2014 Rolls announced it would develop two new jet engines as successors to its Trent series high-bypass turbofan engines, the Advance and the UltraFan. The UltraFan, set to be commercially available in 2025, is to be Rolls’ first geared turbofan offering. It is described as providing at least 25% greater fuel-efficiency and similarly lower levels of emissions than the Trent series.
East’s explanation suggests that Airbus and Boeing, Rolls’ most important customers for jet engines, will continue to be overcoming their current crises brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Hundreds of previously agreed orders for new aircraft have been canceled by airlines and leasing companies, and reduced travel volumes have severely reduced the volume of aircraft and engine maintenance required for existing aircraft.
The pandemic also clouds the prospects for Rolls to find an industrial partner to commercialize the UltraFan technology, as any prospective partners face identical problems of weak demand.