Abstract Stable operation of aircraft engine compressions is constrained by rotating surge. In this paper, an approximate nonlinear surge margin model of aircraft engine compression system by using equilibrium manifold is presented. Firstly, this paper gives an overview of the current state of modeling aerodynamic flow instabilities in engine compressors. Secondly, the expansion form of equilibrium manifold is introduced, and the choosing scheduling variable method is discussed. Then, this paper also gives the identification procedure of modeling the approximate nonlinear model. Finally, the modeling and simulations with high pressure (HP) compressor surge margin of the aircraft engine show that this real-time model has the same accuracy with the thermodynamic model, but has simpler structure and shorter computation time.