Korea targets 90-seat turboprop market

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The ATR-Bombardier regional turboprop duopoly could be set for a shake-up if Korea Aerospace Industries moves, as early as 2011, to launch a 90-seater it is evaluating.

The aircraft, most likely to be powered by a new engine under development by Pratt & Whitney Canada, would be aimed at global markets. KAI civil aircraft business development team manager Sun Ho Beck told Flight International there are limited opportunities in the South Korean domestic market as a result of the launch of high-speed rail services.

Beck says KAI has decided to avoid the competitive regional jet market, where China, Japan and Russia are already developing new entries to compete with incumbents Bombardier and Embraer. But in turboprops ATR and Bombardier have only limited competition from the Chinese and Russians.

KAI could also have the advantage of being the first into the 90-seat market. ATR and Bombardier have been studying 90-seat turboprops but have yet to launch programmes.

ATR, which has been talking to Pratt & Whitney Canada and General Electric about potential engines, could make a decision as early as next year on a large turboprop that would enter service in 2016. But Bombardier said in July that while it continues to study the 90-seat Q400X it has no timetable for a launch decision.

The turboprop would have a range of up to 1,000nm (1,850km), but Beck says the aim is for the aircraft to predominately be used on routes of 500nm or less.

KAI currently produces military training aircraft and components of commercial aircraft. KAI is also developing a new military utility helicopter and is aiming to expand its military portfolio to include fighters and attack helicopters

But South Korea's largest aerospace firm has also been looking to expand its civil aircraft business to include entire aircraft for the general aviation and commercial airline markets. KAI and its civil aircraft business development team attended the AirVenture show in Oshkosh for the first time this year to promote its four-seat KC-100 proof-of-concept aircraft, which is expected to fly for the first time next year.