Rolls-Royce uses new technology to support high engine utilization
The Covid pandemic has severely shaken airline flight activity and the associated aftermarket for aircraft maintenance, but the situation in the business aviation sector is much more positive, according to Rolls-Royce. The engine manufacturer reports that business jet flight hours are well above pre-pandemic levels, with air charter activity reported by Andy Robinson, senior vice president of business aviation services. , described as “an absolute record”.
At the height of the pandemic, Robinson said, business jet use slipped to around 80% of 2019 levels before rebounding emphatically. “Operators have become more proactive in terms of maintenance tasks and our workload has increased dramatically to exceed anything we have ever seen,” he explained. “It put a strain on the system, with our team having to make rough road trips, living in hotel rooms and then facing quarantine upon their return home. “
There are now approximately 7,600 turbojets in service on business jets with more than 3,000 customers worldwide, and approximately 2,600 aircraft are covered by Rolls-Royce’s Corporate Care and Corporate Care Enhanced assistance packages. These contracts transfer all risk and cost exposure to the manufacturer, including all spare parts, replacement engines and all aspects of maintenance.
As part of the Enhanced program, which launched in January 2019 and now has 737 contract customers, Rolls-Royce has extended the nacelle coverage to include components such as thrust reversers and inlets. “This follows feedback from customers who said they wanted us to include costs such as breakdown hours and oil used during engine changes,” said Robinson. AIN. “It also includes corrosion and erosion and I think no one else is covering that.”
What operators seem to want the most from Corporate Care plans is complete certainty over all aspects of maintenance costs. They are also getting, Rolls-Royce said, a great deal of peace of mind that the engines will almost always be operational for flights, with the company currently achieving a trip avoided rate of 99.1%.
The recent entry into service of the Pearl 15 turbofan engines on Bombardier’s latest Global 6500 and 7500 aircraft has further increased Rolls-Royce’s installed base. The Pearl 700 is currently in flight test on the rival Gulfstream G700 model en route to entry into service at the end of 2022, in addition to the Gulfstream G800 which has just been announced for entry into service in 2023. This should be followed by the Pearl 10X on the new Dassault Falcon 10X in 2025.
The Pearls come with an engine vibration monitoring and health unit that increases the number of performance parameters tracked from 2,000 on the previous powertrain to over 10,000. “The big advantage is that from one box, we can access both an aircraft’s engines, as well as engine accessories, such as a fuel monitoring unit, and can see when things start to fail and fix them early to avoid to interrupt travel, ”Robinson explained.
A recent innovation that proved successful during the pandemic was the Rolls-Royce virtual reality training introduced in June 2020. This allowed the manufacturer to remotely train the mechanics of its own customers, using Oculus glasses, portable controls and computers.
The company won a AIN TopFlight Award for using this VR technology to support engines such as the BR725 on the Gulfstream G650. Visitors to the NBAA-BACE show will be able to try it out for themselves, with instructors in Las Vegas to lead training courses (Booth 1833).
Rolls-Royce is also showcasing its new SAFinity initiative, designed to make it easier for operators to meet their commitments to boost the use of sustainable aviation fuel. The service is based on an app that allows customers to check fuel consumption for each engine stroke and then purchase the amount of SAF needed for the intended trip.
While the fuel may not necessarily be pumped into this specific aircraft, Rolls-Royce and its partners, including Shell, will ensure that it is used, issuing a certificate independently verifying the transaction. “We’re actually buying the SAF, not just offsets to cover travel,” Robinson explained.
All of the company’s engines can now run on a 50% SAF blend. The Pearl 700 has been running at full power with 100% SAF and will therefore be ready when it is available in that concentration.
At the same time, Rolls-Royce is stepping up its involvement in the electrification of aviation. The company is developing electric propulsion systems for the VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft developed by the British startup Vertical Aerospace and is also in partnership with the Italian Tecnam to develop the P-Volt commuter aircraft. This work prompted Robinson and his team to start thinking about the maintenance needs of electric motors, batteries and other hardware when they go into service around 2024.