GE Aviation details plans for statewide investment

Jun. 17, 2013 @ 06:23 PM

GE Aviation confirmed Monday a plan to add 50 jobs at its engine assembly plant in Durham to boost capacity for assembly of a new jet engine that one company official said is being developed to power heavily-used aircraft.

The company formally announced the plans to add capacity at the Durham plant as part of larger announcement of a $195 million total statewide investment that would add about 240 jobs at sites in Asheville, Wilmington, in West Jefferson and Durham. The company now employs about 1,300 people across the state.
City and county officials from around the state have worked on a multi-jurisdictional effort to provide incentives for GE Aviation’s investment, while trying to keep details of the business deal under wraps. The deal is contingent on final approval of an additional incentive package from the state, said Kelly Walsh, a company spokeswoman.
According to previous reports in The Herald-Sun, local government leaders have pledged millions in incentives for the company, which is a unit of General Electric Co. Durham city and county leaders pledged $600,000, with $200,000 coming from the county and $400,000 from the city.
“I think GE has been a good corporate citizen,” Durham Mayor Bill Bell said Monday. “I think they have a lot of promise in terms of future outcomes. It’s pretty clear to me that if we couldn’t get our package together across the state, the opportunity may not come here.”
Previously called “Project X” by local officials there, the plan for GE Aviation’s investment in Asheville includes the construction of a 125,000-square-foot manufacturing facility near an existing manufacturing facility.
At the new plant, the company would produce engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite materials, or CMCs, initially for GE Aviation’s new LEAP, or Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion, jet engine.
The new engine is being developed in by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and the French company Snecma.
The LEAP engine, targeted to enter service in 2016, is designed to power aircraft including the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s C919 aircraft.
Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation, said in an email that in terms of the number of passengers and flights per day, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 are in the “sweet spot” for the airline industry.
The Boeing 737 and the A320 handle mostly domestic flights with between 100 to 150 passengers, according to Kennedy, and can take off and land five to seven times per day.
The new CMC material, which the company sees as a “differentiator” for its next-generation aircraft engines, is planned to be incorporated into all of its new engines, but the company is starting with CFM’s LEAP engines, Walsh said.
The specific component to be built with CMC material in the new Asheville factory would be a high-pressure turbine shroud, which is a stationery component that directs exhaust gases through the high-pressure turbine. 
The factory would be the company’s first involved in the mass production of CMC components, David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, said in a statement in the company’s news release.
The CMC material is lighter weight and more durable, allowing for lower fuel and maintenance costs for customers, the company said in its release. The material is able to support extremely high temperatures in the high-pressure turbine.
The company said it has orders and commitments for more than 4,500 LEAP engines. There will be 18 CFM turbine shrouds in each LEAP engine produced, which the company said would mean a high, long-term production volume at the Asheville plant.
“We believe the future Asheville plant will be on the ground floor of a new technology that will change aviation,” Joyce said in the release.
The workforce at GE Aviation’s current manufacturing facility in Asheville, where the company now employs 290, would gradually transition to the new plant. The company is planning for an additional approximately 50 workers at the new site.
Across the next decade, the current machining work at the site could be transferred to other GE plants.
The planned investment in the company’s assembly plant Durham, which has been called “Project Bull” by local government officials, is primarily for new tooling and equipment for the LEAP engine, Walsh said.
The company is also planning for an additional 105 workers and an 80,000-square-foot expansion in West Jefferson in Ashe County.
The proposed investment in the facility there, which currently does machining of rotating parts, would allow for increased capacity for additional machining work.
The company is also planning for 35 additional jobs in Wilmington. GE Aviation’s 540,000-square-foot facility in the coastal city will continue to manufacture medium to large rotating hardware. The investment would allow for the purchase of next- generation equipment for the plant.