PWC presses ahead on testing for nextgen turboprop engine

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Pratt & Whitney Canada is starting component testing for its next generation regional turboprop engine with the aim of having a technology demonstrator ready for early 2012.

"The key component to validate the initial stage of demonstrator testing is the compressor, so we're starting component testing on the compressor and we've got a multitude of tests, and it will lead to a full scale compressor test and then flow into a full engine core test into next year," said PWC vice-president of marketing Richard Dussault.

He added: "We want to be ready to launch [the programme] next year."

PWC's next generation turboprop engine promises to deliver a 20% improvement in fuel burn over today's fleet. Dussault said PWC continues to talk to turboprop manufacturers ATR and Bombardier and other airframers about bringing the new engine to market "in 2016 or 2017" to power a clean sheet turboprop.

He said a re-engining project for ATR or Bombardier's turboprops is not PWC's aim, but that the manufacturer would not rule it out.

"If you really want to capture the benefit of a brand new engine with its fuel burn advantages, you'd couple it with a new airframe. They can bring new material and technology in terms of weight and aerodynamics for a whole new turboprop. But potentially, the next generation turboprop engine could have [applications] for re-engining. Potentially, but the aim is for a new product," said Dussault.

ATR and Bombardier have indicated interest in a 90-100-seat turboprop, though a decision on how or if they will proceed is not expected to be taken until next year.

Speaking to Flightglobal at the ERA General Assembly in Rome, Bombardier senior vice-president sales, marketing and asset management Chet Fuller said it is difficult for the manufacturer to justify a clean-sheet aircraft, even though it gets "an awful lot" of solicitations for it.

"Let's say I'm anywhere near correct and the market [calls for] 130 turboprops per year, or 140, 150 maybe. A clean sheet aircraft, I don't care what it is, is a $3 billion programme, so you've got to be pretty confident that the market is going to be there for a long time in quantity."

If Bombardier stretches the Q400 to launch a Q400X programme, it may need to consider re-engining. A stretch "gives you opportunities to put advanced technologies in the engine", noted Fuller, who stressed that the airframer continues to study all options.

PWC, meanwhile, believes that interest in larger-sized turboprops will continue to grow as the price of fuel remains high and airlines seek to manage their costs.

Dussault pointed out that ATR "has done exceptionally well" in the market of late. The airframer today announced it has reached a new sales record, having booked firm orders for 145 aircraft, plus 72 options, for this year alone.