RAA 2012: Guess who’s thinking about making a new turboprop?

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Engine makers General Electric and Pratt & Whitney have been signaling for months that ATR and Bombardier aren’t the only airframers pondering the market potential of a 90-seat turboprop, but it was never clear to whom they referred.

Our first thought was Embraer. The Brazilian manufacturer once dominated the 35-seat turboprop sector, so they have the technical know-how. But Embraer chief executive Frederico Curado blew up that theory on 12 April, telling us in no uncertain terms that his company has no intention whatsoever of jumping back into the turboprop sector.

So who else could it be?

Today at the Regional Airline Association’s annual convention, GE finally let slip the identity of the mystery airframer. In a briefing about GE’s next-generation CPX38 turboprop, general manager Allen Paxson reminded the press that Saab was once in the turboprop game, and “Saab is going to want to play in that [90-seat market sector] as well”.

Oh, really? In the question-and-answer, we quickly asked Paxson what he meant by invoking Saab. “Certainly Saab has been at the top of the market for decades,” said Paxson, obviously alluding to the Saab 340 and Saab 2000 that ceased production in 1997. “It’s fair to say they have been studying that as well.”

Michael Magnussen, chief executive of Saab Aircraft Leasing, is also here, and he confirmed Saab’s advanced design team is studying possible civil aircraft concepts. They have invited suppliers, such as GE, to brief them on current technologies, so that they can understand what’s available. Magnussen also noted that Saab at the moment is a cash-rich company, and is looking for new business opportunities.