Regional aircraft manufacturer ATR has begun preliminary studies into a new two-member turboprop family in the 80- to 90-seat capacity range.

Speaking during the World Air Transport Forum in Cannes, ATR marketing VP Mario Formica said: “Today we are thinking about a new family of turboprops with a capacity of 80 to 90 seats. This is something which we are discussing internally and with the engine manufacturers.

“The study was launched 18 months ago, but we have not commented about it externally because we don’t want to talk to the airlines without something credible. We will survey the market to see what the real requirements are.”

He says ATR would tap parent company Alenia’s technological know-how for the new aircraft family, which would comprise two members and be in direct competition with the regional jet sector.

The new family would not be launched until 2015 at the earliest, once technology from aircraft programmes such as the Airbus A350, A380 and Boeing 787 has been proven.

Formica says: “The most important thing is the engines. We are discussing with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce about a new-generation engine able to power this next generation of turboprop.

“If we want to be competitive in [the 80- to 90-seat] segment, we have to maintain the 30% [cost-saving] gap and to keep the gap we would need new technology.”

ATR has just launched its new -600 series. Formica says around 11 airlines, primarily from the USA, have expressed an interest in the -600.

Canadian turboprop manufacturer Bombardier is also working on a stretch of its Q400, dubbed the Q400X, which would add three additional rows to the existing variant.

Bombardier Regional Aircraft international markets and airline analysis director Philippe Poutissou says the Q400X is under internal study, but is still at a fairly early stage.

He says: “We are thinking of a simple programme, compared with the design of a new aircraft. In terms of development, it is an aircraft that I think should be launched in the next few years, but programme deliveries could start in 2011.”