OSHKOSH: Cessna ponders new entrant to executive turboprop sector

Washington DC
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Competition in the six- to eight-seat business aviation turboprop market could soon hot up as Cessna ponders whether to launch a single that would compete on price and performance with several existing or new turboprops in the sector, including the Epic E1000 and Kestrel turboprop.

Although the company says it has been flying an engineering research vehicle of a single-engined turboprop for several years, this year's show marked the first time Cessna has displayed any representative hardware for such an aircraft - a mobile cabin and cockpit demonstrator which seats seven.

Jodi Noah, senior vice-president for single-engined propeller aircraft, cautions that Cessna does not have a "go" to launch the programme "until we figure out the real market for it".

Cessna hoped to gain a better understanding of the market by inviting potential customers to visit the mock-up at AirVenture and provide feedback.

Preliminary specifications include a price range of $2.1-2.5 million with seating for a pilot and five to six passengers, similar in price to the $2.5 million Epic E1000 when certificated.

Kestrel has yet to set a price for its six- to eight-passenger turboprop, which is expected to come to market in about three years. Two other turboprops of similar size, the Daher-Socata TBM 850 Elite and Pilatus PC-12 NG, are in a higher price category - $3.5 million and $4 million respectively.

Cessna is targeting a 260kt (480km/h) cruise speed and 25,000ft (7,620m) maximum altitude, with a pressurised cabin altitude of 8,000ft.

Chief executive Doug King says Oregon-based Epic Aircraft is "fully financed" through its new owners - Russian maintenance, repair and overhaul company Engineering LLC - and has recruited up to 50 employees to begin the certification of the E1000.

"We'll probably double [staff numbers] again in the very near future," King says, adding that contracts have been secured with all major suppliers, and recently hired staff who worked at Cessna's defunct Corvalis single-engined piston aircraft facility in Bend, Oregon have expertise in certificating a composite aircraft.

Epic announced at the show it has signed a long-term agreement with Pratt & Whitney Canada for the PT6A-67A turboshaft engine that will power the E1000.

Meanwhile, Kestrel Aircraft has frozen the external shape of its all-composite, low-wing Honeywell TPE331-powered turboprop and is beginning structural design work and interior mock-ups, says chief executive Alan Klapmeier. "We're a long ways from having a conforming prototype," Klapmeier adds, but he says certification will be complete in "about three years".