Rolls-Royce has demonstrated innovative leadership in the industry’s quest to maintain a sustainable global economic development. John Kelly, Senior Vice President Customers Africa and Middle -East of Rolls-Royce, in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal explains Rolls-Royce remarkable efforts to deliver efficiencies in current and future aviation industry, plus focus on Chinese aircraft.
Q: What has been the impact of the COVID-19 on Rolls-Royce operations relating to Africa?
A: Last year, around the world, many of our fleet of engines spent months in hangars, on runways or parked up around the world. It was a stark contrast to “normal” times.
In Africa, the situation was no different as the lockdown prevented passengers from flying. But, what we did see was an impressive shift in focus to cargo flights. According to IATA, cargo tonne-kilometers flown by African airlines outperformed all other regions in the international traffic growth chart, their international CTKs grew by 22.4% compared with January 2019.
To meet demand, we saw customers, like Ethiopian, transform their passenger A350XWBs, powered by our Trent XWB engines, into cargo carriers supporting the robust expansion of Asia-Africa trade routes.
Benefitting from less stringent restrictions and lower COVID cases, African carriers have posted the most resilient international traffic performance throughout the pandemic.
Q: Given that many airlines have part of their fleet grounded due to the COVID-19, how do airlines ensure their engines remain safe especially for re-deployment to active service in a cost-effective manner?
A: Taking an aircraft out of storage is not as simple as just taxiing it out of a hangar . In the same way that aviation is governed by procedures and check lists with the aim of ensuring safety, a similar approach applies to aircraft when they are on the ground, especially for an extended period. So too for when they return to the skies.
While aircraft are grounded, airline engineers work diligently to ensure engines are correctly maintained.
Basic steps for engine preservation include the correct installation of inlet and exhaust covers, which prevent wind milling, the ingress of sand or animals, and potential foreign object damage. Applying these procedures for regular engine running will also help to combat the effect of moisture penetration into engine components including the oil and fuel systems.
Longer-term preservation, for six months or more, requires engines to be prepared and then fully wrapped in polythene and sealed. Then extra measures and checks are put in place to deal with humidity, these include desiccant bags within the sealed powerplant and also protective additives for the fuel and oil systems.
Communication with our customers is critical at any time, but given the current practical constraints, having a clear plan which is delivered and monitored through cloud-based technology is essential. This enables our three-stage approach covering Parking, Managing Parking, and Return to Flight phases. All of this is carefully monitored to mitigate risk of compliance using our proprietary Engine Preservation Dashboard.
This dashboard is informed by data drawn from Cirium, iAuditor, Maximo, and EHM packages which illuminate traffic light alerts reflecting an engine’s maintenance needs. This informs an Action Plan where engineering service interventions can be brought to life around the world.
Q: Rolls-Royce recently announced an agreement with Uganda Airlines for the airline’s A330neo powered exclusively by the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000; what does the airline stand to gain from this agreement?
A: Our Total Care agreement will give Uganda Airlines the ability to plan ahead financially through securing the cost of operating and maintaining their Trent 7000 engines. We can offer this through a dollar-per-flying-hour payment mechanism. This enhanced service solution gives the assurance of aircraft availability underpinned by our advanced engine health monitoring and the inclusion of product durability and reliability improvements.
Q: How would you describe Rolls-Royce participation in Africa’s aviation industry, and which of Rolls-Royce engines would you describe as most preferred or successful in the African market?
A: Our Civil Aerospace business has been powering African airlines for over 70yrs. We have supported our customers and the industry as its grown faster than in any other region – pre covid the rate of growth was 6% per annum. We have helped launch three new airlines in as many years: Air Tanzania, Air Senegal and recently Uganda Airlines.
Our market share has grown steadily; we can say that up until the lockdown, our Trent family of engines powered just over 50% of the market with 80 wide bodies in service and another 30 on order. Our average fleet age is relatively young, only six years old. Furthermore, we have a really strong presence in the regional aircraft sector, a fundamental mode of transport across Africa; our AE3007 engines power more than 95 regional aircraft in service across the continent.
Q: Would you say your support centres on the continent are adequate to provide the cost-effective solutions African operators need, given the critical need to reduce the cost of operation and maintenance of engines among African operators?
A: We have a strong presence across the continent to ensure our customers are provided with real-time technical expertise from our airline support teams. One major development that has come from the pandemic is the development of technology and digital tools to connect customers with the expertise and insight they need and which helps them drive down their cost of operations.
For example, we have developed a suite of Insight Apps which enable a customer to access their operational data and optimise their maintenance planning, in order to realise real savings and efficiencies in their operation.
Q: How much of Rolls-Royce engines components are manufactured in Africa, and what is the possibility of increased partnerships with Africa in this regard, given the emergingparts manufacturing outfits in Southern and Northern Africa?
A: At present we do not have any of our components manufacturer in Africa, however, we see real growth in capabilities and are constantly looking for the right opportunities to develop new partnerships within the continent.
Q:In terms of future aviation professionals development, how much of Rolls-Royce support is geared towards training and skills development among young Africans?
A: According to the UN, less than 25% of Africa’s graduates qualify in STEM subjects. Rolls-Royce has always sought to encourage young people to embrace the education that will form the foundation of tomorrow’s technologies. Our greatest resource is our human resource.
Later this year, we are keen to deploy a pilot scheme that includes a fantastic STEM kit that can go into secondary schools as part of a wider curriculum.
The enormous demand for technological and engineering skills requires us all to play a part in nurturing the next generation.
Q: Rolls-Royce has continued to develop newer technologies for engines; how do you ensure that operators of older aircraft and engine versions are not overlooked amidst the focus on newer technologies?
A: At Rolls-Royce, we structure our business to have a project focus for each engine type. Each project can then focus on the market needs of the customer base for that engine type, ensuring that we meet their specific needs.
Q: China is making remarkable strides in aircraft manufacturing, how much interest does Rolls-Royce have in the Chinese aircraft industry, and would you say with the support of engines like Rolls-Royce Chinese aircraft would gain a strong foothold in global and emerging markets like Africa?
A: The Chinese civil aviation market is the world’s second largest one, and is an important market for Rolls-Royce. We’ve been present in China for over 58 years. Today all major Chinese airlines are our long-term customers. We’ve developed an extensive supply chain network across the country, sourcing aero engine parts and components from a number of Chinese manufacturers, building partnerships, exploring opportunities for industrial cooperation.
As a leading industrial technology company with a strong track record and profound insight into the aviation market, we’re well positioned to provide the most optimised and competitive propulsion systems to the suited Chinese aircraft and to create value for airline customers in Africa.
Q: There is strong emphasis on emissions reduction in aviation; how successful and optimistic is Rolls-Royce in meeting its targets in this regard?
A: Successful management of climate change requires global collaboration and an active, structured transition to a low carbon economy, driven by the innovation of sustainable power solutions. Aviation accounts for 35% of transported world trade and generates around $2.7trillion annually, and supports over 65million jobs worldwide. Currently, Air Transport accounts for 2% of global man-made CO2 emissions – however, this will increase rapidly if we don’t do something now.
Today’s new generation of aircraft emits 80% less CO2 per passenger kilometre and is 75% quieter than earlier jet aircraft. Rolls-Royce invests over £1bn in research and development every year; over two-thirds of this investment is targeted at the reduction in our environmental impact.
Rolls-Royce has committed to ATAG and ACARE Fligthpath 2050 goals which include a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions (/pkm), 65% reduction in noise levels and 75% reduction in NOx certification metric compared to 2000.
The gas turbine will remain fundamental to heavier widebody aircraft for many years; therefore, the industry, collectively, must accelerate the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel. The first run of our new UltraFan® demonstrator engine will be on 100 per cent SAF and our engines can already use blended SAFs without the need for adaptation.
Today, we are focusing on collaborating with partners in the oil and gas industry to produce these SAFs and ensure our engines can run on 100% SAF.
Plus, we are developing radical alternatives for regional and smaller aircraft such as electrification. Our Power Generation System 1project -is developing the world’s most powerful hybrid-electric power generation system, delivering 2.5MW of power. It represents a step-change in technological advancement on a scale never seen before.
We have many of these projects underway and to help ‘propel’ our ambitions, this year, we should see our Spirit of Innovation aircraft break the world speed record for an all-electric flight.
We should also add that up to 98% of an engine can now be recycled. Around 50% can be re-used in aerospace and the remainder goes to industries with less arduous requirements such as cars and sports equipment.
Q: The industry is evolving rapidly, how would you describe the future of aircraft and engines capabilities and maintenance, especially in relation to artificial intelligence?
A: The future will certainly see an ever growing connection of digital capabilities, data analytics and innovation that will drive a step-change in delivery and efficiency.
Rolls-Royce has an installed base of more than 13,000 civil aerospace jet engines in service around the world. In the past few years, we have been installing an increasing number of data-gathering sensors into our products. The data these devices generate is aggregated and then analysed in the cloud. Already, this information helps make predictions about maintenance and service needs of a particular engine based on the performance of many other engines of the same model.
Nowadays, the internal operations of these smart engines aren’t monitored on just an individual basis. Engineers can look at how every single one of these engines’ parameters perform over time – or they can look at all of them at once.
We have to use artificial intelligence to sift through every last byte of the wealth of data that we collect. Our AI enables immediate diagnostics and predictive problem solving.
Q: Would you say the demand for new engines among African operators has increased in recent years, and what is the future of this demand, and what do you look forward to in the African market over the next 5-10 years, in terms of marketshare and demand for new aircraft?
A: We’ve seen exponential growth in new wide body engine orders since 2015. Africa’s aviation market has harnessed economic opportunities, growing on average 6% year-on-year. Before the pandemic, we had increased engine flying hours by 50% in just five years.
We’ve engines for 30 wide-body aircraft that are still on order.
There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how soon we can all return to the skies and enjoy the freedoms we had before the outbreak. But, the fact is, Africa’s still growing. Its position in the world is ever more important and the aviation industry underpins our economic connectivity and international relations. We feel confident that Africa will remain on a growth trajectory that will require not only new aircraft but also transitioning widebody and regional aircraft.