GE Aviation has invested millions into its facilities across North Carolina, including about $120 million in its Wilmington operations over the past five years.
The Wilmington total includes investing $36 million last year.
When state officials announced GE Aviation’s planned expansion of its production earlier this month -- bringing 146 additional full-time jobs over four years and an investment of $105 million in western North Carolina -- officials with GE Aviation said the selection was based mostly on the manufacturing operations of its ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components.
“Most of the growth out there right now that was announced was around the ceramic matrix composite (CMC) program,” GE Aviation spokesman Perry Bradley said of the company’s recent decision.
The announcement in February included its facilities in Asheville and West Jefferson. The bulk of that $105 million investment went to its Asheville plant, which opened in 2014 as the company's first site to mass-produce CMC components for the CFM LEAP and other commercial jet engines, he said.
The Wilmington facility does not hold CMC operations, but GE Aviation's investments in the state have not sidestepped Wilmington, he added.
The site in Castle Hayne uses precision manufacturing to make rotating components that go into the core of nearly all of GE Aviation’s jet engine designs, Bradley said.
There are about 650 employees at the site in Wilmington, he said, making up the largest employee base of all of the company's sites in the state.
The total investment over the past five years includes $63 million that was announced in 2013
for additional machines to supply parts for the LEAP engine, Bradley said.
“It’s a massive program. It’s been very successful … but it requires a ton of investment to deliver what we promised and what our customers demand from us,” Bradley said of CFM LEAP. "It's benefiting all of those [North Carolina] sites and others."
GE Aviation facilities in Wilmington, Asheville, West Jefferson and Durham play a role in helping the company meet the growing demand for the CFM LEAP engine.
The CFM LEAP engine entered service in 2016 and is the fastest-selling jet engine for GE Aviation with more than 14,000 orders and commitments, Bradley said. LEAP engines are products of CFM International, a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, which is a French manufacturer.
Each new LEAP engine has CMC parts. The company's CMC components are also are being used in the new GE9X engine under development for the Boeing 777X twin-aisle aircraft. The GE9X engine took it's first test flight last week in California.
The engine is currently in a test program, with certification expected in 2019, according to GE Aviation.
Bradley said the GE9X is the largest engine produced by GE Aviation and when it moves into production, Wilmington would be involved in manufacturing components for that engine as well.