Though a mix of conspiring forces continue to postpone the launch of a 90-seat turboprop for at least another year, two manufacturers are closing in on milestone tests for precursors of an engine that could power such an aircraft.
Pratt & Whitney Canada has shipped the compressor rig developed from its year-old demonstration programme for a next generation regional turboprop engine to industrial partner MTU Aero Engines in Germany, says marketing vice-president Richard Dussault, speaking to Flightglobal on the eve of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) convention that begins on 7 May in Montreal.
MTU is now instrumenting the engine with about 500 sensors in advance of compressor testing that is scheduled to begin in June, he says.
The tests' results will allow P&WC to make commitments on the engine's performance to aircraft makers, Dussault says. He anticipates that they will be available by the end of third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter is scheduled to complete a first flight later this year. The US Marine Corps' next heavylift helicopter is powered by three General Electric GE38s, a powerplant that can be converted into a turboprop engine called the CPX38.
The GE38 "serves as the backbone core for anything we would do on the turboprop," GE Aviation chief executive Alan Joyce said in a meeting with reporters on 19 April. "When one of the airplane companies sees a market for that we'd love to be a participant in it."
The appeal of the 90-seater is already clear to several irlines. Malaysia Airlines turboprop operator Firefly, for example, said last year it would be interested in launching a 90-seater if such an aircraft development programme existed.
But turboprop aircraft makers ATR and Bombardier have been slow to approve a project that is likely to consume four years and billions of dollars to certificate. ATR, in particular, has a healthy order backlog for ATR 72-600s, which may dampen internal enthusiasm for launching a new product. Both Bombardier and ATR parent EADS also have several aircraft already in development, and few resources to apply to what is widely considered to be a niche market.
But Dussault remains optimistic. "When there's an unfulfilled market demand there will be somebody at some time that will make a commitment," he says.
But he acknowledges that no 90-seat aircraft programme will be launched before mid-2014. A few years ago, P&WC hoped for a 90-seater entering service as early as 2015, but now Dussault says he thinks 2019 is more likely.
GE's Joyce appears to agree.
"There isn't somebody pounding down my door right now," he says.