RAA 2011: Bombardier outlines potential approaches to stretched Q400

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Bombardier believes it is well positioned to compete in the larger turboprop market that the airframer could usher in during the second half of the decade.

Engine manufacturers GE and Pratt & Whitney Canada are well-entrenched in research dedicated to developing engines for larger turboprops in the 90-seat category, and both companies believe they could bring a powerplant to market in the 2016 timeframe.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft Gary Scott said in Geneva on 18 May that there is definitely room for a 90-seat stretch of the current 70-seat Q400, and the company could introduce a larger aircraft beyond 2015.

Speaking to ATI during the annual RAA convention on 18 May, Bombardier vice-president of marketing Philippe Poutissou said the company already has a platform featuring the speed and productivity attributes engine manufacturers and competitors "talk about with a next generation turboprop". Unlike "the other guys", said Poutissou, Bombardier does not have to reference its potential 90-seater as a new aircraft.

Poutissou explained Bombardier needs to balance maintaining commonality and understanding the competition in the space to produce "the best aircraft possible". That entails evaluating which changes are more valuable than commonality, he said.

The Bombardier Q400 is powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150A powerplants. Poutissou said evaluating an engine change to produce an optimal larger version of the turboprop is "the largest investment required".

Generally speaking, Poutissou explained an airframer needs to ensure market support before opting to shift to a different engine. If customers do not press for an engine change on the Q400, Bombardier could deliver a stretched aircraft featuring common systems "more quickly". Three options exist to engine offerings on a larger turboprop, said Poutissou. Keeping the same engine obviously would not result in significant improvement in fuel consumption, but additional seats result in some improvement, he said.

A second option is to tweak the existing engine for improved "performance benefits in the same envelope", Poutissou said, citing a 3% improvement gained from the transition to the GE34-3A1 to the -3B1 in the CRJ100/200 models. The upgrade to the -3B1 was available to operators at overhaul.

Noting the third step, introducing a new engine, was the most dramatic and wipes out commonality, but offers the largest reduction in fuel consumption, Poutissou explained each step creates a higher development cost.

Scott said in Geneva that turboprop aircraft are "becoming more and more a key part of our future" as more airlines warm to the type.