Embraer sees room in turboprop market for 1 manufacturer

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Embraer has decided the turboprop sector is too small to support the existing two manufacturers and the Brazilian aircraft maker has no interest in pursuing it, chief executive Frederico Curado says.

Only three weeks ago, Luiz Fuchs, president of Embraer Aviation Europe, told a French audience that the company is "seriously studying the possibility of a return to turboprop manufacture". It was the first time since 2008 that Embraer officials openly discussed a next-generation turboprop programme.

Embraer once built hundreds of turboprop-powered EMB 110 and EMB 120 airliners, which ranged in size from 15-30 seats for passengers. The company shifted to regional jets in the early 1990s and finally to the E-Jet family a decade later.

Curado told reporters on 10 April, however, the company's latest study concluded launching a new turboprop would not be the "best investment today".

Curado pointed to last year's order tally of ATR and Bombardier, which totalled 164 aircraft, including 157 alone for ATR.

"It just confirmed our assessment of the market that this is a market which has a size for one manufacturer," says Curado. "Two may be already kind of complicated. And a third player? Unless there is a huge breakthrough in technology, which we don't see there - the engines can probably bring some advantage - but it's too small a market to justify a huge investment in our point of view."

In fact, Pratt & Whitney Canada is developing a new turboshaft engine and General Electric is designing a civil variant of the military GE38. Both would be offered to power a next-generation turboprop that could be lauched by ATR later this year.

But Embraer is working slowly on defining the scope of a re-engining project for the E 170/190 family, which Air Lease Corp has dubbed the E 198.

Embraer plans to decide in 2013 whether to add other enhancements to the aircraft and whether to include all four members of the family or exclude the 70-seat E 170, Curado says. Embraer also is considering a stretch of the E 195 to as many as 134 seats.

A decision on a new engine could be made sooner, but "not by much", Curado says. General Electric exclusively supplies engines for the existing E-Jets and is developing the Passport to compete for the second-generation engine. Embraer also is considering bids from Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney.

"We are really focusing on the E-Jets for the time-being," Curado says.