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On September 22, the FACC PNW and the FACC Ohio co-produced the Aerospace Industry’s panel discussion at Continuum’21.

Francois Guerzeder, Corporate Senior VP Boeing Programs at Safran, welcomed premier speakers.

Trade disputes between Europe and USA, China’s growing influence, Supply Chain disruptions, aircraft and engine efficiency, have been everyday commercial aviation business for years, if not decades.

In relation to the current French/U.S. diplomatic difficulties, François opened the discussion stating that long-term relationships always carry with them both  good and bad days.  Such is the case with the unique transatlantic joint-venture, CFM International, and its parent companies, GE and Safran Aircraft Engines – a  living example of a good and long-lasting relationship between France and the U.S. Not to say that there is not difficulties from time to time between the two partners, but how we exit the crisis is the key and can strengthen the relationship. 

In this context, the panel discussed the evolution of CFM partnership, the relationship with Boeing, the complexities of a global supply chain, shared some lessons learned, and introduced the CFM RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) Program and the breakthrough technologies that will change the face of commercial aviation in the future.

 Back to the origin of this success story 

Gaël Méheust, President & CEO at CFM International, shared the secret sauce of CFM,  which is today the world's most successful aviation joint venture with GE Aviation in the U.S. and Safran Aircraft Engines in France. He first took us back in time to 1971, when the whole story of CFM began with René Ravaud, CEO at Safran, formerly known as Snecma. At that time, the company was state-owned and only involved in military engines.  However, Mr. Ravaud, as a strong and visionary leader, knew that a huge market would open up for them if they were able to produce civil engines. Mr. Ravaud had to find a partner for this project and the domestic market was in the U.S. in the early 1970s. He went courting for GE and met their former President, Gerhard Neumann. A strong, trusting friendship between the two men was born. It took few years of negotiations, strategic planning, and insuperable U.S. government hurdles, but the two companies finally made it in 1973, during the Franco-American summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.   Presidents Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou approved the creation of the enduring joint propulsion company and CFM was officially incorporated in 1974. However, they had to wait until 1979 to get the first order, which came from Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Flying Tigers (now part of FedEx) to provide new engines for their existing DC-8-70 aircraft.  These orders came just one week before the joint venture was scheduled to be dissolved. 

Today, GE and Safran stand at a unique place in jet propulsion, with total CFM orders and deliveries fast approaching an unprecedented 39,000 jet engines. Gaël noted that one of the key factors of success for CFM is the fact that it is truly a 50/50 joint venture, with GE and Safran sharing everything equally.  Sales, logistics, production, and product support are all shared equally between the two parents companies, and their trusting friendship is still intact. They also keep the organization extremely light and all the operational matters remaining with the parents companies.   

A strong relationship with Boeing

Nathaniel Hoening, CFM LEAP-1B Program Director for GE Aviation, described how the relationship with Boeing has been instrumental to the long-term success of CFM. Boeing believed in the joint venture as far back as the early 1980s when the 737 Program needed a new engine.

Nate explained the power of teamwork between the two companies, sharing the example of how they faced an epic reputational crisis in 1998, when the Next-Generation 737 was at the beginning of the fastest new product introduction in aviation history. The hardware that managed fuel flow was not working properly and flames were shooting out the back of the engine.  Not a very pleasant experience for passengers!   CFM, Boeing, and the supplier worked  together to fix the issue and implemented a field response plan. Thanks to their collaboration, they were able to fix the problem and avoid a single plane being removed from service, which would have cost airlines millions of dollars daily.

Prior to COVID-19, CFM was producing 2,000 engines per year, which is the highest production rate in the industry by far.   François Guerzeder asked Nate to explain how the CFM supply chain is organized and how it handled the ramp up.  He shared that more than 300 external suppliers support the company’s complex global supply chain, feeding more than 30 component manufacturing sites around the world. GE and Safran work closely with all of their respective suppliers for the parts of the engines that they build. This collaborative process will be even more crucial as CFM and the entire industry face a new production ramp-up post-COVID. 

Charlie Hix, Vice President & General Manager of  Propulsion Systems for Boeing,  focused on the three-decade long successful relationship between CFM and Boeing, most recently with the 737 MAX program.  He explained how the two companies successfully work together to face technical challenges and the unprecedented commercial issues brought about by COVID-19, as well as how new aircraft deliveries have been, and will be, impacted by the pandemic, Charlie demonstrated that the long-term fundamentals remain intact with an expectation that more than 43,000 new airplanes are forecasted to be delivered in the next 20 years. He also highlighted the fact that domestic traffic will be back to the pre-COVID levels by 2022, followed by international travel in 2024. 

GE and Safran: Rising to the challenge

Finally, François gave the floor to Sébastien Imbourg, CFM Executive Vice President Programs at Safran Aircraft Engines, who introduced the CFM RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) Program that was launched in June 2021. Sustainability is a key driver for commercial aviation and now, more than ever, this has become a “must go” for all industries, and the aerospace industry included. 

CFM launched this program to target more than 20% lower CO2 emissions compared to today’s most efficient engines through the introduction of disruptive technologies.  The RISE Program will focus on advancing open fan architecture, achieving a step change in propulsive efficiency, incorporating even more  advanced materials, introducing hybrid-electric capability to the single-aisle aircraft market, and expanding the use of additive manufacturing to achieve this ambitious goal.  CFM plans ground and flight tests in the mid-2020s and service entry by 2035. CFM is also focused on ensuring that any engine developed as a result of the RISE Program will be capable of operating with alternative fuels, including Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and hydrogen. 

According to Sébastien, the RISE Program perfectly illustrates the shared vision of a sustainable future, bringing leading-edge technology to market by 2035.

François concluded the panel discussion emphasizing the fact that sustainability is at the heart of the concerns of all industries and an integral part of the strategic development plan of the aviation industry and CFM, a very successful French-American technology and industrial joint venture. 

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