With demand for turboprop aircraft increasing in the face of soaring fuel prices, it isn't any wonder that Embraer is considering entering what is currently a two-way competition between incumbent airframers ATR and Bombardier (although let's give props to the Chinese for rolling out an updated version of the MA60).
It begs a little question for this journa-blogger, however. Would Saab - which shuttered production of its 340 and 2000 turboprops about a decade ago - ever consider a comeback? After all, just months before AMR's decision to cull American Eagle's entire 340 fleet, Saab Aircraft Leasing (SAL) reported that supply of 340As was shrinking steadily, supply of 340Bs was almost nil, and that the 2000 had a loyal customer base and stable values. Austria's Robin Hood Aviation, for a single example among many, is growing its 340 fleet (its second delivery of the type even evokes a higher power).
SAL chief executive Michael Magnusson has put my curiosity to rest. "Saab will not pursue any new regional project. We will continue to manage our portfolio of 135 Saabs and support worldwide fleet of 500 Saabs," he says, adding: "Of course we are experiencing a strong demand for our aircraft and prices have been climbing. But with fuel prices at record level we can not afford to relax as many airlines are hurting and this could eventually impact us as well."
What is happening at American Eagle shows why SAL needs to stay on its toes. "I am confident [the] market can absorb the AMR Saabs but only in 'smaller doses'; if they release aircraft too quickly it could impact values," says Magnusson.
"I foresee in the near term [the] turboprop market will continue to be good, with new aircraft mostly in the 70-seat size and used aircraft in the 30-50 seat size. It will be interesting to see if more 70 seat turboprops will be sold in the US. So far it has been fairly limited as you know, with Asia and Europe doing most of the buying."
With respect to the new MA60, dubbed the MA600, Magnusson believes the aircraft will have limited penetration in the market.
So there you have it, folks. The ball, it would seem, is in Embraer's court. In June Embraer market intelligence VP Luiz Sergio Chiessi said that while the turboprop study is still in its infancy, the Brazilian airframer is likely to develop a family of aircraft should the project be adopted.
"I believe that everything nowadays has to be a family - a family of two, three or four [aircraft]," he says.
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