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Delta uses billions of gallons of fuel a year, so it’s always looking to reduce its costs and cut emissions.

Who’d have thought a coating for engine fan blades might help the airline accomplish those goals?

The Operations Support and Enabling Technologies teams at Delta Technical Operations, working with MDS Coating Technologies (MCT), this week qualified for federal funding to further test a promising engine fan blade coating that is expected to reduce emissions, retain fuel efficiency, reduce maintenance costs and prolong the operating life of the JT8D-219 engine, the power behind Delta’s trusty narrow body workhorse airplane: the MD-88.   

“This is fairly similar to giving your car a full-on carburetor treatment,” said Jeff Peiter, Manager - Enabling Technologies. “The more efficiently and cleanly fuel and air moves through a car engine, the more gas mileage you get. These fan blade coatings essentially drive the same principle, although in a much more complex application than in a car engine.” 

JT8D engine move

Initial component level tests proved very promising, so the team had the idea to apply for funding under the second phase of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program.

“Our next steps are to conduct more testing, both in more controlled settings but also on live engines,” said Renzo Ninomiya, Manager - Component Shop Engineering. “For example, we intend to apply the coating to a few fan blades in engines to measure their rate of deterioration compared to those without.”

Peiter says that the efficiency retention demonstrated in lab testing shows great promise in reducing Jet-A fuel burn and emissions per aircraft. And that potential, when applied to Delta’s fleet of 116 MD-88s, becomes very compelling, although testing phases will run for at least one year before any fleet-wide decisions are made.

The MD-88 is an important aircraft for Delta, flying thousands of passengers on relatively short flights across the U.S.

So what is the coating exactly? Well, the exact chemical structure of MCT’s BlackGold® coating is proprietary, but it appears as a shiny coating that bonds with the fan blade at the molecular level. Most fan blades made of titanium and cost tens of thousands of dollars, so the potential maintenance and part savings from protecting the fan blades with the BlackGold® coating could be significant.

“Delta TechOps has some of the best minds in the business,” said Marcio Duffles, MCT’s Vice President of Business Development. “We’re looking forward to this opportunity to demonstrate the BlackGold® coating’s ability to protect fan blades and retain engine efficiency throughout flight operations. We’re excited about what’s possible for, not only, the JT8D engine fleet, but potentially other engine types in the Delta fleet as well.”