THE BATTLE TO dominate the regional-jet market is set to intensify, with Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) and Bombardier preparing to launch new 70-seat aircraft within the next nine months.

AI(R) has unveiled plans to begin full-scale development of its proposed AI(R) 70 twinjet by mid-1997. The first prototype, is tentatively scheduled to be flown by mid-2000, with production deliveries following between nine and 12 months later.

The European consortium concedes that it faces a tight development timetable, but hopes to make up time by advancing the start of the AI(R) 70 pre-development phase to the end of 1996. "This will be a very active phase," says AI(R) chief executive Patrick Gavin.

Bombardier, in the meantime, has stolen an early lead, following board approval to formally offer the CRJ-X to airlines. It aims to make a final launch decision by the end of the year, with the first test aircraft being flown in March 1999 and deliveries beginning in September 2000.

Preliminary development has reached an advanced stage, with 550h of engineering and performance validation wind tunnel testing completed by May 1996. A 120h programme of more detailed design-configuration testing is due to end by mid-1997.

AI(R), to reduce costs, has based the design of the AI(R) 70 four-abreast fuselage on that of the ATR 42/72 turboprop. It is also proposing development of a "shrink" 60-seat version and, possibly, a stretched version with up to 84 seats, providing there is market support.

The CRJ-X represents a 4.7m stretch of the 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet incorporating a new 1.8m-span-wing-root plug, extended leading-edge and enlarged horizontal stabiliser. Two versions will be offered, a 70-seat A model and an increased gross- weight 78-seat B aircraft.

While Bombardier has already selected the General Electric CF34-8C growth engine for the CRJ-X, AI(R) does not expect to make a final powerplant decision until mid-1997. In addition to the CF34, the Allison AE 3012 and Pratt & Whitney/Snecma SPW 14 are being considered.

Both companies are seeking to attract risk-and-revenue sharing partners. AI(R) is offering a 30-40% stake in the programme and is talking with South Korea. Bombardier is expected to sign up Mitsubishi.

Source: Flight International