PWC presses ahead on testing for nextgen turboprop engine

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

PWC's next generation turboprop engine promises to deliver a 20% improvement in fuel burn over today's fleet, and the manufacturer is talking to ATR and Bombardier, as well as other airframers, about bringing the power plant to market.

"We want to be ready to launch [the programme] next year," said vice president of marketing Richard Dussault, adding that the company envisioned the engine powering a clean-sheet turboprop in 2016-17.

"The key component to validate the initial stage of demonstrator testing is the compressor, so we're starting component testing on the compressor," he said. "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."

While PWC would not rule out re-engining an ATR or Bombardier design, this is not the intention, Dussault said: "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."

ATR and Bombardier have indicated interest in a 90- to 100-seat turboprop, and ATR believes it might be able to make a tentative decision next year on whether to proceed.

But Bombardier senior vice president for 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, " Fuller said.

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.