U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. (left), and Delta CEO Ed Bastian talk in Delta’s engine test cell on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Atlanta.
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi / AJC
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi / AJC

Delta builds world’s largest jet engine test cell

Delta Air Lines has constructed what it calls the world’s largest jet engine test cell, a facility next to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that Delta says will help expand its engine maintenance business.

The new facility is the first to be built by a U.S. airline in more than 20 years, according to Atlanta-based Delta, which spent more than $100 million to build it and prepare it for operations. The massive noise-insulated concrete facility that sits next to the Atlanta airport airfield is used to test-run a jet engine at full power.

Delta already had three other engine test cells in operation at its Technical Operations maintenance center at Hartsfield-Jackson, but saw a need to build a bigger one nearby after it struck an agreement to be an approved maintenance center for engine maker Rolls-Royce and ordered new Airbus A350 wide-body jets. As new jet engines are developed to be more fuel efficient, they are also becoming larger, calling for a bigger engine test cell.

The new test cell can handle an engine with up to 150,000 pounds of thrust, more than twice the capability of Delta’s older test cells and more thrust than today’s jet engines produce. Delta says that will allow it to test more powerful engines developed in the future.

A jet engine sits in front of the door to Delta’s engine test cell on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Atlanta.
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi / AJC

“This facility will be around for the next 50 years,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Delta handles maintenance work on its own fleet of planes and engines, but it also makes money doing lucrative maintenance work for about 150 other airlines and airplane operators. Delta also opened a new engine repair shop in Atlanta last year.

Overhauling a small jet engine can cost an airline $1 million, while overhauling a large long-haul jet engine can be a multimillion-dollar project. Jet engines must be overhauled anywhere from every few years to every 10 years, depending on usage. The test cell is used after overhaul work to run the engine and monitor its performance before the engine is used again to fly.

A jet engine inside Delta’s engine test cell on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Atlanta.
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi / AJC

Over the next five years, Delta said it expects to grow the annual revenue of its maintenance, repair and overhaul business by $1 billion.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., attended a Thursday ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Delta engine test cell, which is staffed by about 150 workers and is going through proving runs before ramping up to full operations this fall.

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