When GE Aviation decided to build a cold weather engine testing facility in Winnipeg at the beginning of this decade, the global leader in the technology did not even imagine it would one day be building an engine with the same diameter as the fuselage of a Boeing 737.
But that’s what GE is doing now and that’s why the Testing, Research and Development Centre (TRDC) at the Richardson International Airport needed a $26-million upgrade.
The expanded 122,000-square-foot facility officially opened earlier this month, making the TRDC that much more crucial to GE’s aviation engine development program.
Designed specifically for Boeing’s new 777X airplane, the GE9X will be the most fuel-efficient jet engine GE has ever produced, as well as its largest commercial aircraft engine with a 134-inch diameter front fan.
It brings GE’s total investment in the TRDC — located past the runways near the north end of the Winnipeg airport — to $75 million.
"The TRDC has played a significant role in the development and certification of GE Aviation’s GEnx and Passport engines, CFM’s LEAP engine and GE Honda’s HF120 engine," said Benito Trevino, general manager, engine testing programs at GE Aviation.
"This additional investment will ensure the facility can handle the GE9X engine."
When the original test facility opened in February 2012, GE needed it to handle cold weather and ice testing on its engines. The Cincinnati-based company has another test site in Ohio, but it could not do the extensive cold weather testing required for newer ice certification standards.
Shortly after it was commissioned, the company realized it wanted to be able to do all-weather testing in Winnipeg as well and another $10-million investment was made in 2013.
In addition to the abundance of nice cold weather, GE also chose Winnipeg because it could partner with StandardAero to manage and operate the facility. StandardAero has a very large engine maintenance, repair and overhaul operation in Winnipeg and a long track record of support for a wide portfolio of GE engines.
Kyle Hultquist, StandardAero’s senior vice-president of marketing and communications, said the connection StandardAero has been able to make with GE at the Winnipeg test site has been "everything we could have hoped for."
Since it opened, StandardAero’s technicians have delivered approximately 120,000 hours of labour to build, which equates to 3,000 40-hour workweeks, or almost 58 years of a single person’s time.
Mike Scott, StandardAero’s’ Winnipeg-based chief financial officer, said, "We are humbled by the opportunity to manage this site, working very closely with GE’s aviation experts. Our amazing partnership with GE Aviation continues to grow stronger as we break new barriers in testing the world’s most advanced aircraft engines while expanding capabilities into the areas of icing, ingestion and endurance testing."
GE has about 700 GE9X engines on order and Boeing’s 777X target service-entry date is late 2019.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.