Diamond offshoot Austro teams with Steyr to develop larger powerplant for two new Diamond aircraft

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Diamond Aircraft's sister propulsion business Austro Engine is teaming with fellow Austrian firm Steyr Motors to develop a larger powerplant for Diamond's top-end DA50 Magnum and a new six-seat, twin-engined design dubbed Future Small Aircraft.

The 280hp (206kW), six-cylinder, jet-fuel engine will be based on Steyr's M1, used in boats and specialist vehicles, and deliver two-thirds more power than the DA50's 170hp, Austro AE300.

Diamond founder and chief executive Christian Dries hopes a DA50 with the new engine will fly this year and achieve certification by early 2013. The original five-seat DA50 has struggled to gain traction with customers, but Dries believes its new engine will allow it to compete head-on with the Cirrus SR22, the market leader in piston singles.

The FSA is a longer-term project which draws on technology from the single-engined D-Jet, which is undergoing flight testing at Diamond's offshoot in London, Ontario, says Dries.

The FSA will be built of carbonfibre, using a vacuum-assisted injection process, at Diamond's factory in Wiener Neustadt, near Vienna, and may include an automated landing system as a safeguard if the pilot is incapacitated. The technology was developed as part of a programme to develop an unmanned version of the DA42 piston twin. Cessna 303 operators are among the FSA's target market.

Austro - also based in Wiener Neustadt - will work with Steyr to produce a lighter version of the M1, which features direct high-pressure pump injection to all six cylinders, and has its cylinders and cylinder heads integrated in a monoblock design. "We have to modify the existing engine quite a lot," says Dries. "It has to go on a big diet."

Dries spun off Austro Engines in 2007 to develop an home-grown rotary, diesel powerplant when problems emerged with Diamond's then-engine supplier Thielert.

The downturn in the private aviation and training sectors have prompted Diamond to refocus its business in the past two years on the higher-margin security and surveillance market, served by the sensor- and camera-equipped MPP special mission version of the DA42, of which it expects to sell 60 to 80 examples this year.

"Special mission now represents 80% of our turnover and we believe we are now the biggest manufacturer in this market," says Dries. "Without it, the business would not look too bright."