On April 24, 1982, Delta Air Lines helped make aviation history when it flew the very first McDonnell Douglas DC-8-71 aircraft powered by CFM International’s CFM56-2 engines into revenue service on its route between Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia.
CFM International (CFM) had been formed as a 50/50 joint company between Snecma (Safran group) and General Electric in mid-1974. After more than five years of very successful development work, though, the company had not received a single order.
In March 1979, a mere two weeks before the program was due to be officially cancelled, Delta, along with United Airlines and Flying Tigers, chose the fledgling company to re-engine DC-8 Super 70s. Within weeks, the U.S. Air Force had selected the CFM56-2 to re-engine its fleet of KC-135 tanker aircraft, and the program was saved.
No one realized at the time what they had created. Over the past 30 years, CFM has become the model for successful international joint ventures and the CFM56 product line has become the best-selling commercial engine in history. The CFM56 family encompasses six engine models that power 30 different commercial and military applications for more than 500 customers around the world.
With an eye to the future, GE and Snecma renewed the partnership agreement in 2008 to the year 2040 and officially launched the LEAP engine program. The LEAP-1B and LEAP-1C were selected as the sole powerplants for the Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC C919 aircraft, respectively, while the LEAP-1A is offered as an option on the Airbus A320neo. These airplanes are set to enter commercial service in the 2016 / 2017 time frame. To date, CFM has received orders for more than 3,400 LEAP engines.
Total CFM56 engine orders currently stand at 28,875 engines, of which more than 23,300 have been delivered. Through March, CFM has received orders for approximately 600 engines in 2012.
And what about those early customers? Today, Delta has a fleet of more than 310 CFM-powered Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft in service or on order, while United Airlines has about 290 CFM-powered Boeing 737s in service or on order. The U.S. Air Force is still CFM’s largest customer, with nearly 1,800 engines in service.