Rolls' big hope is the new Trent engine, still in its development phase, but already achieving macho thrusts in excess of 70,000lbs. The Trent is the latest adaptation of the RB211 series - the very engine whose original development costs caused Rolls to go bust in 1971.
Pitched against the Trent is an updated version of the Pratt and Whitney PW4000, while GE is going for an all new engine, the GE90. The latter promises to launch with a thrust of 75,000 and, on paper at least, shows a marginal edge in fuel consumption over its rivals. With fuel economy a high priority for hard-pressed airlines, this could prove to be a significant advantage.
But the GE90, a new project, will not be available until the mid-1990s, putting it behind both Rolls and Pratt. More than this, airlines are wary of offering themselves up as guinea-pigs for an untried engine. Says Robins confidently: "GE is taking a huge risk. With us the risk is very low."
As it stands, Pratt has poll position with 150 options or orders for its PW4084. Rolls has firm orders for some 36 Trents and options on a further 42. "We need to win 40 to 50%," says Robins, clarifying quickly that the break-even point (the exact identity of which is a well guarded secret) is considerably lower.
But the orders so far have largely excluded those for the Boeing 777 (apart from United Airlines, which is going with Pratt for its 777s). Several airlines are expected to make decisions over the next few months and, as the single largest airframe manufacturer, getting onto the new Boeing will be critical for all three players.
Despite the importance of the Trent, other projects have not been ignored. Indeed, the key to success for an engine manufacturer is to have a wide range of engines for different sizes and makes of aircraft. Apart from the obvious point that the more markets that you are in, the greater your potential sales, airlines like to buy as much as possible from a single manufacturer because of synergies in maintenance and repairs. A strong selling point for a new engine, therefore, will be how much it has in common with others in a family or series.
This was one of the problems that Rolls-Royce faced in the '70s and early '80s - the only sector where it had significant market penetration was medium to long-haul engines with the RB211s. As Robins explains: "We were handicapped in the (Boeing) 747 because we weren't on the 767." Now Rolls-Royce is on all major airframes apart from the A340 Airbus. Translated into market share, it has moved from a paltry 5% in the early '80s to some 20% of civil engines worldwide today. More than this, Robins claims to be winning about 30% of new orders and looks on course to achieve an overall share of 30% by the mid-1990s.
A significant contribution to this has been made by the Tay family, for short to medium-haul aircraft, including small executive jets. The Tays have a thrust range of 10,000 to 20,000lbs and now account for about a quarter of Rolls' civil business. They have been particularly successful on the Fokker 100 and the Gulfstream IV executive jet which only fly with Tays.
Apart from the Tay, there is also the V2500 for medium-haul aircraft like the A320 Airbus and the MD90 series. This engine, launched into service two years ago, is produced by an international consortium of five countries comprising Rolls, Pratt, MTU of Germany, Fiat of Italy and three Japanese companies.
International collaborations of this kind have been a growing trend since the mid-1980s, as the high cost of R and D has thrown together companies which in other circumstances would be bitter rivals. "It costs $2 billion to launch a major civil engine from scratch," says Keir. "None of the big companies can sustain that alone." Rolls-Royce has agreements across the globe, including a joint venture company set up with BMW in Germany last year.
For BMW the move marked a return to its aerospace roots - the circular emblem on BMW cars is actually a stylised propeller - but the company sold out of aerospace in the 1950s. For Rolls the venture gives it a foothold in the German market, and a contribution to the costs of developing the Trent as well as a successor to the Tay.