Rolls-Royce’s footprint of engines into the African continent is growing. Along with that, they are changing the way they are doing things. It’s exciting times for one of the most pioneering and forward-looking companies on the globe. In an exclusive interview, World Airnews editor Heidi Gibson spoke to Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace vice president customers sub Saharan Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.
ROLLS-ROYCE in AFRICA
Question: Rolls-Royce has been operating and supporting customers in Africa for well over half a century. They are certainly not new-comers and hardly need an introduction. But this year things seemed to have changed. Please give us an update on Rolls-Royce’s market position here in Africa and how do you see the market developing over the next 10 years?
Answer: Rolls-Royce’s position – over the last 20 years in Africa – has been transformational. We have seen our customer base consistently grow to the point that today we have more than 27 customers across the continent occupying two very different market segments – one in the widebody category part of which includes a smaller subset business aviation category. And if you look over the last three years the average amount of aircraft delivered into Africa with a RR engine inside is sitting at 10.
More specifically if you look at the backlog of aircraft that have a widebody engine, a little over of 95% of all widebody aircraft on order have our engines. So the rate of delivery has escalated and this year we are expecting 14 or more aircraft to be delivered. We are busy and this puts us in a position where the number of aircraft in Africa has become sizable enough to really invigorate RR’s focus in support of the region.
On the regional side we have Embraer regional jets – which have almost double the amount of widebody on order. These relate to operators across all corners across the continent. We are seeing specifically the ERJ 135, 140 and 145 all powered by the AE 3007 engine has become an aircraft of choice for Africa. This is because it provides a low-level cost of operation, it is extremely reliable to operate because the engines are proven to be incredibly sound and it has the right amount of range for a person to do a lot of inter-city connections which traditionally has been one of the things hindering expansion in the aviation market in Africa.
Another reason for us to be excited is because you generally see fleet replacement at airlines every 10 – 15 years. And a lot of airlines on the continent are in the midst of these replacements.
We just seen an order of six Dreamliner 787-9 from Egypt Air powered by RR Trent 1000 engines that will be delivered over the next couple of years. We have a lot of new customers starting up their own national carriers like Air Sénegal for example and Uganda Airlines – which will be coming on line next year with the A330 neo. Already established airlines like Air Mauritius have just purchased and taken delivery of the A330neo. We believe that this aircraft is very well suited for the operator and the continent.
Over the next 10 years we are going to continue to see a market growing. We will concentrate on nurturing that market and grow it. As clichéd as it might sound, the sky is the limit here in Africa. I am so excited to be a part of it and the growth is part of the reason why I decided to extend my career in the Middle East and Africa team a little bit longer.
AFRICAN UNIQUE CHALLENGES
QUESTION 2: What unique challenges do you face in Africa and how does Rolls-Royce overcome these?
Answer: So the first thing to always put into perspective is that Africa is sometimes referred to as a single place but really it is an amalgamation of 54 different cultures, countries, governments and people. They have different ways of doing business and you have to appreciate and understand all of those intricate differences if you want to be successful here.
So one of the things that RR is doing to ensure that it is able to work in a manner in which the customers are going to be receptive is to get closer to their customers. We are focusing on making sure that we are in the field not just to win new opportunities but to make sure that we are here to hold our customer’s hands as we go through this new journey of operations together. We have offices around the continent namely in Cairo, Ethiopia, Johannesburg and Mauritius and some smaller satellite offices at some of our operators that have smaller fleets.
Africa is about understanding who you are partnering with.
TRENT 7000 ENGINE
QUESTION 3: We recently saw the new Trent 7000 engine on the A330neo enter into service here in Africa with Air Senegal and Air Mauritius. We have seen Rwandair also take delivery, as is Uganda Airlines later in the year. Tell us why this engine is proving to be so popular here in Africa?
Answer. So yes Rwandair has taken possession of an A330neo That makes three new A330neo operators in Africa this year and we are only half way through the year. The engine is going to provide an evolutionary improvement not only capability but in operator cost reduction in Africa.
Take Air Mauritius. This is a case close to my heart as I was the sales director on the account when engines were being selecting. It was so interesting to see how the A330 neo business case stacked up against aircraft replacements and how much more efficient it is going to make Air Mauritius.
Most of the fuel efficiencies increases come from two different areas on the A330neo. Part of it comes through improved aerodynamics of the air frame itself – that’s Airbus’s contribution – but they will admit that the biggest improvement came from the reduction in fuel burn on the engines. The way in which we achieved that was by creating the highest by-pass ratio engine that RR has ever built.
This engine has a ten to one by-pass ratio. One of the fundamentals of gas turbine design is to improve fuel efficiency and this is done – to a certain degree by maximising the by-pass ratio so you want more of the air going around the by-pass than going through the core – because most of the thrust comes from the by-pass.
On this particular engine we are pushing ten times the amount of air around the core than goes through. So what we have done is increase the diameter of the fan so that your by-pass ratio is larger than on previous generations of engines.
The way I like to look at it, is that it about the differences in the way these engines are designed that give operators different advantages. So for example at RR we use three-shaft architecture – this is unique to RR. And what this means is that there are three shafts rotating independently in the engine. That allows us to make our engines shorter, stiffer and more lightweight. This has the advantage of being able to make adjustments to different core points in the flight profile that can be isolated to allow for maximum fuel burn for those different operating profiles.
For example, if I am in climb, the speeds that my shafts need to rotate is optimal in a different condition than when I am in cruise and because you have multiple shafts, they can independently rotate down to those points of ideal operation.
An engineer explained it to me. He said the perfect gas turbine engine would be one with an infinite amount of shafts and while this might be an exaggeration – the point is – this is the idea that took RR down the path of going to three shafts and this revolutionised the market in the late 70s.
This is what took RR from a 2-3 % market share to its position today as a market share leader.
QUESTION: With the rising number of Roll-Royce powered aircraft operating across the continent, how are you meeting service requirements?
Answer: RR takes it obligations to deliver on time services to customers really seriously so we are regionalising all of our support teams in Africa so we can get closer to customers. So the traditional model where everything was centralised has changed. We are now no longer a British company we are a global company. All the teams that were located in Derby are being moved out to five sub- regions across the globe.
One of which is the Middle East Africa and Central Asia which I head up. We have all our commercial sales and account manager teams now in Abu Dhabi. From the UAE we can serve African customers dramatically better than in the UK. Believe me I have been living this for the last six years.
Another factor that played a part in this decision was the opening up of a RR storage facility in OR Tambo in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the reasons that a lot of company are not successful doing business in Africa is that they don’t understand that it needs a local touch.
In Africa it is about developing relationship. This was done so well under the former leadership of Kevin Evans who did this for the last 20 years. I am really hoping that I can continue to do and make lasting, impactful commitments – such as partnering for maintenance capability with Egypt Air. All of these elements combine to make Rolls Royce Africa and Africa Rolls Royce.
A QUIETER ENGINE
QUESTION: 5. The Trent 7000 is the third new engine to come into service from Rolls-Royce along with the Trent 1000 TEN and Trent XWB-94. All are evolutionary. The first Trent engine was flown almost thirty years ago. Ultimately what is the future for the Rolls-Royce’s family of engines, where will the engineering take us?
Answer: Well the A330neo is very flexible aircraft well suited for African operators. And the business model among African carriers is to be able to travel to Europe. Now Trent 7000 engine vs the Trent 700 engine offers a number of advantages. Specifically, this is – that it is much quieter. In fact by six. This gives operators the advantage over some European operators of being to land in a wide spectrum of slots. Some airports charge extra for noisy engines so this can reduce costs.
We are on the cusp of the next generational leap, another evolutionary step which combines gas turbine engine technology, reducing the core size, increasing the by-pass ratio but through a gearing system.
This is the combination of a gear box fitted onto a smaller cord engine but with a similarly large fan. RR has been developing this for a number of years and has already tested it. It is a gearbox that will power an engine with 110 thousand pounds of thrust which would make it the most powerful gearbox in the world.
That step will take us through another series of design improvements – just like in the other previous generations of engines – this will be evolutions of the Ultrafan technology.
Looking forward though, the next step is to start the process of electrification. At present RR is partnering with Siemens and Airbus to design a hybrid electrical aircraft. The grand vision is to go entirely electrical – so again here there will be stages of evolution ahead of us which we already fore seeing. Not forgetting that we still working on improvements to current technology to meet customer demands today.
One of the interesting fact in engine design is that it takes so long to design that we start the process before aircraft that will power has been announced. Yes, we have a market analysis team set up to predict where it’s going to emerge. We are preparing for the Ultrafan technology to come on board in 2025 but we have already been working on in for the past five to six years. You have to think that far ahead.