Ruag has completed final assembly of the first new-build Dornier 228 New Generation 19-seat turboprop at its factory in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany and is preparing to step up its presence at the ILA show by taking a chalet for the first time.
The aircraft is the first 228 to roll off the German line since 1997 (deliveries began in 1981) and is scheduled to be handed over to an undisclosed Japanese airline on 30 September, subject to receipt of a Japanese type certificate. First flight is targeted for July.
Ruag has upgraded its test aircraft with key features of the NG model, including five-bladed propellers. Picture: RUAG
Another two 228-212 NGs are on the line. One is for delivery to Norwegian Lufttransport
, which announced its order for one aircraft at February's Singapore air show
, and the other is for the German navy.
Ruag aims to secure European Aviation Safety Agency certification for the 228 NG by mid-September, a few months later than originally planned.
"We decided last year that we will also certify standard options for JAR-Ops equipment, plus additional options like cockpit voice/flight data recorders, TCAS and GPS," says Wolfgang Neumann, Ruag Aerospace Services managing director.
Ruag plans to roll out four 228 NGs this year, between four and six in 2011 and eight to 10 annually from 2012. "It depends a little bit on some customers that we are talking to," says Neumann, noting that the rate depends on the proportion of special-mission derivatives in the orderbook, as equipment lead-times for these aircraft are longer as they could be fitted with systems such as forward-looking infrared sensors and side-looking radar for environmental and disaster monitoring.
Total orders and options for the 228 NG stand at 12 aircraft, he says, adding that discussions have been held with 35 potential customers.
"Over the last six to eight months, more and more emails and faxes have been coming in from all over the world," says Neumann.
The company expects about two-thirds of orders to be for the passenger version, and the remainder for the special missions market. List price for the passenger aircraft is €5.2 million ($7 million), increasing to €5.8-5.9 million if optional JAR-Ops equipment is specified.
The 19-seat 228 NG features a glass cockpit and introduces airframe weight savings, new five-bladed propellers (weighing around 36kg less than the original propellers) and a vibration damping system. "We have done around 350 modifications to improve the aircraft where it makes sense," says Neumann.
Swiss company Ruag took over the 228 type certificate in 2003 and decided to relaunch production in October 2007 following customer requests.
"There is no other 19-seater, apart from the Twin Otter and Let L-410," says Neumann. "The 228 NG is the front-runner from all aspects, including the cost and weight perspective," he adds.
Wolfgang Kofen, Ruag Aerospace Services sales director, says that compared with the Twin Otter, the 228 NG offers 50kt (92km/h) more cruise speed, a 700kg (1,540lb) higher maximum take-off weight - at up to 6.6t - and the ability to carry up to seven additional passengers on a typical mission over ranges of up to 830km (450nm). Maximum endurance is up to 10h.
Hindustan Aeronautics of India is responsible for manufacturing airframe subassemblies as a subcontractor, rather than a risk-sharing partner.
Kofen spent many years working on the 228 programme but left Dornier in 1997. He was persuaded by Neumann to head sales for the reborn programme and joined new owner Ruag in June 1998.
"When I got the call from Wolfgang, from the heart, my decision was made in seconds," says Kofen, adding that he markets the reborn 228 as "Swiss, made in Germany".
Neumann says the key to ensuring the project's success was to ensure that the 228 NG could be offered to the market at a competitive price.
"The most critical discussion we had was how to manufacture the structural parts, because this determines the price of the aircraft," he says. "Of course, HAL had to certify themselves as a parts manufacturer, on time. They are not certified as an aircraft manufacturer."
Neumann says enlisting HAL to build major subassemblies was effectively a "risk-reduction exercise".
Despite the lack of civil certification, a large number of 228s have been built in India under licence since the 1980s, for use by the military, and Neumann says around 100 are still flying. They are used in various roles including pilot training and VIP transport.
"There have been discussions about how the new-generation improvements could be used by the Indian air force, starting with the five-bladed propellers and higher take-off weight," he says.
The third aircraft on the assembly line will be the first special mission aircraft, equipped for the maritime patrol (MPA) role. It will be fitted with a mission system and operator stations in the cabin.
"We are in the process of developing the MPA aircraft with the German navy as part of a modernisation of their existing 228 fleet," says Neumann. "This aircraft will be delivered by the fourth quarter of 2011."
In addition to acquiring one new-build aircraft, the navy is upgrading at least one of its existing 228 MPAs with the NG's enhanced cockpit and five-bladed propellers. Neumann says that there is a possibility that the existing aircraft could also receive the new mission system.
A strong potential candidate for further sales of the MPA version of the 228 NG is Thailand, which operates seven ageing 228s in that role.
Ruag is preparing to select a contractor to provide the 228 NG mission system and is holding discussions with three potential suppliers, two of which are German, while one is based elsewhere in Europe. "We will make a final decision at the end of March," says Neumann. "Installation will be done here [in Oberpfaffenhofen]."
As the first new-build 228 NG will not fly in time for it to be exhibited at the ILA show, Ruag is taking its test aircraft and an aircraft operated by the Dutch coastguard. Both are based on existing airframes but have been upgraded with major elements of the 228 NG improvements, such as the five-bladed propeller and glass cockpit.
Performance flights with the new five-bladed propeller were due to begin in May. "These will define the exact graphs for flight operations," says Neumann.
"For the next four to five years we have further potential improvements in front of us," says Neumann. "We will look into the issue of floats," he adds, noting that this is a feature available for the Twin Otter. "The second possibility is a new autopilot, probably with the capability for Cat 2 [precision approaches]." The addition of a terrain awareness and warning system is also an option.
The 228 NG is being offered with the 776shp (580kW) -10 version of the Garrett TPE331 engine, which features a gearbox made from aluminium rather than corrosion-prone magnesium.
Given that the next-largest Western turboprop aircraft is the much larger ATR 42, the 19-seat 228 NG is a "programme at its optimum", says Kofen.
"Now we are back in the OEM league," he adds. However, there are no plans to follow ILA by taking Ruag's chalet to the Farnborough air show in July.
A major focus for the 228 NG programme is putting in place an effective global support network to underpin the sales effort.
"Our customer support organisation is now working on a concept for possible co-operation with service centres," says Neumann. "We are in the process of identifying potential candidates. We want to set standards for the service centres. If they meet the standards they get a signature that they are an approved service centre. We are looking for between six and eight worldwide."
Neumann says Ruag will offer "power-by-the-hour"-type support, which is already provided for the Dutch coastguard. The 228 NG has a design life of 53,500 flight hours and 48,000 cycles.
"We are able to arrange finance and leases. Allianz is providing financial risk insurance," says Kofen.
The total non-recurring cost of restarting 228 production and certificating the aircraft is around €20 million, says Neumann.