Rolls-Royce benefits from demand for fuel-efficient planes

Rolls-Royce expects profits to rise again as it continues to benefit from airlines' need for more fuel-efficient planes

British aero enginemaker Rolls-Royce, the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines behind U.S. group General Electric, said it had made a good start to the year and that its key civil aerospace unit, which accounts for half of group sales, would lead strong profit growth at the group this year.

"For the full year, the group continues to expect good growth in underlying revenue and underlying profit with cash flow around break even as we continue to invest in future growth," Rolls, which makes engines for planemakers Airbus and Boeing, said in a statement.

Global airlines will buy $3.5 trillion of aircraft over the next 20 years to meet demand for travel to and from emerging markets - especially in Asia - and renew ageing fleets in the West, according to the world's big two planemakers.

The predictions underscore soaring demand for narrowbody or single-aisle jets such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, the backbone of many airlines.

Analysts forecast that 20,000 narrowbody planes will be produced in the next 20 years.

Rolls, which reported a 21 per cent rise in 2011 profit, has more than 5,000 engines - worth some £52 billion - on order.

As well as airlines' switch towards more fuel-efficient aircraft, growth last year was boosted by the acquisition of German enginemaker Tognum and the sale of its stake in International Aero Engines.

A new joint venture between Rolls and U.S. rival Pratt & Whitney to develop the next generation of engines for the mid-sized aircraft market is expected to be officially formed this year.

Airlines are investing in new lightweight planes to lower fuel costs, which are soaring.

European carriers Air France-KLM and Lufthansa this week reported results battered by higher fuel costs.

Industry body IATA expects the global airline industry to suffer in 2012 because of a toxic mix of high fuel prices and the euro zone debt crisis.

The company, whose website says a Rolls-Royce powered aircraft takes off or lands every 2.5 seconds, said its new Trent XWB engine took to the skies on board an Airbus A380 flying test bed during the first quarter.

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