Canadian manufacturer Bombardier is set to launch a high-density configuration for its Q400 turboprop in the first half of next year, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Bombardier will offer the new variant in 84- and 86-seat versions that will feature two or three additional rows over the current layout. It is unclear whether the higher capacity will be achieved through slimmer seats or more substantial modifications to the interior.

The high capacity version has secured a launch customer, according to the source. The identity of the customer has not been disclosed.

Bombardier has not issued any comment on the plan.

Its Q400 sales are heading towards 500 units, after 13 years of service. The type is offered in different passenger versions from 67 to 80 seats. Although the majority of the fleet is configured with around 74 seats, SATA Airlines took delivery of its aircraft in a 80-seat all-economy configuration in 2010.

Bombardier introduced a dual-class 67-seat version in 2011 with Ethiopian Airlines, featuring seven business-class and 60 economy seats, fore and aft lavatories as well as a galley outfitted to provide cold and hot meals.

The manufacturer, and its turboprop rival ATR, have each been talking about developing a 90-seat aircraft for several years. This is the result of increasing interest in larger turboprops given the high price of fuel and infrastructure constraints at some airports which restrict jet operations.

Bombardier first revealed in 2007 that it was looking at a stretched derivative of its Q400, dubbed the Q400X, which it is continuing to study.

In its latest commercial aircraft forecast, covering the 2012-31 period, Bombardier anticipates demand for 2,700 turboprops in the 60- to 99-seat market.

ATR revealed long-term plans in 2008 for a new family of turboprops, including a new 90-seat model and replacements for the ATR 42 and 72 family. It launched the -600 series in 2009 and has delivered both models to customers since 2011.

The Franco-Italian manufacturer forecasts demand for 1,340 turboprops in the 90-plus seat category in its own 2012-31 market forecast, as well as 1,640 in the 70-seat sector. “Approximately 85% of the total demand for new turboprops is represented by 70- and 90-plus seats segments,” says ATR.

Source: Cirium Dashboard