Saab considering return to civil aircraft manufacturing

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Swedish manufacturer Saab is considering a strategic return to manufacturing regional turboprop aircraft after a 15-year hiatus.

Saab's advanced design staff has solicited key suppliers, including turboprop engine maker General Electric, for updates on modern technologies as part of a wider study, said Michael Magnussen, president and chief executive of Saab Aircraft Leasing.

Magnussen confirmed the study after it was disclosed by a GE official - regional and large business aviation general manager Allen Paxson.

"It's fair to say they have been studying [a new regional turboprop] as well," Paxson told reporters at RAA. "And they've been talking to us." Another engine maker, Pratt & Whitney Canada, also may be responding to technical inquiries from Linkoping, Saab's manufacturing base in Sweden.

Asked if P&WC was in discussions with Saab about a new turboprop, P&WC vice president of marketing Richard Dussault side-stepped a direct answer. "We're talking with everybody," Dussault said.

Saab once was a leader in the regional turboprop sector with the 37-seat Saab 340 and the 50-seat Saab 2000 until production ceased in 1997. The airframer continues to build the Gripen, but has focused in recent years on expanding in other fields, such defence electronics and security systems.

Meanwhile, both GE and P&WC are designing rival next-generation engines to power a projected market for 90-seat turboprops, with ATR planning to decide whether to move forward on such a programme later this year.

Other regional aircraft makers, including Bombardier and Embraer, have been less enthusiastic about the idea. Bombardier has expressed reservations about the cost of a new-start programme, while Embraer has declared the market too small two support more than two manufacturers.

Saab has not decided to launch a new turboprop aircraft. "They are trying to understand the market, Magnussen said. He noted that Saab is also "cash-rich" at the moment, and is keen "to explore new business opportunities".