Rolls-Royce has announced it has begun building its new greener UltraFan engine, with an aim to have the first demonstrator model completed by the end of the year.
The British company hopes the engine will help boost sales as well as help the environment. This is because much of the company’s income disappeared when airlines stopped flying because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving it to post a record $5.6bn (£4.1bn) underlying loss in 2020.
Rolls-Royce also believes aircraft manufacturers will need a new engine, even if the coronavirus crisis has caused further delay to when Airbus or Boeing develop a new jet.
“It is arriving at a time when the world is seeking ever more sustainable ways to travel in a post-Covid-19 world,” said Chris Cholerton, president of its civil aerospace arm.
The company hopes the UltraFan, which it describes as the world’s largest aero-engine, could deliver a 25 per cent fuel efficiency improvement compared with the first generation of its Trent engine.
According to Rolls, it could be the basis for a new family of engines that power both narrow body and widebody aircraft. It also expects the first test run of the engine to be conducted on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel.
Its current engines power widebody jets, and not the single-aisle jets which sell at higher volumes, and are likely to recover from the pandemic more quickly, the company said.
Some analysts have speculated that new low-carbon technologies could overtake the development of UltraFan, a geared gas turbine. Yet Rolls argue that gas turbines would be the “bedrock” of long-haul aviation for many years, and UltraFan’s efficiency would help the transition to more sustainable fuels.