Bombardier aims to beat rival ATR by several years in the so far slow-moving race to offer regional carriers a turboprop in the 90-seat category.

Bombardier vice president marketing and analysis Barry MacKinnon says the manufacturer, which first revealed last year that it was looking at a new stretched derivative of its 78-seat Q400, continues to study the proposed 90-seat Q400X.

While Bombardier has "no definitive timeline" for a launch decision, MacKinnon says several carriers have expressed strong interest in the Q400X and Bombardier will be able to deliver it before the planned 90-seat product from ATR.

"Right now it remains a study although there is considerable market interest in the aircraft," MacKinnon told the US Valuation Conference yesterday in Washington DC.

ATR's vice president of sales for North America John Buckley says the manufacturer also sees strong interest from regional carriers for large turboprops but is waiting for a breakthrough in technology before launching a 90-seater.

"It's difficult to talk about the timing, but it would be reasonable to think 2015-2016 with deliveries several years after that," Buckley told the conference, which is organised by Flightglobal's sister premium news site Commercial Aviation Online.

ATR revealed earlier this year long-term plans for a new family of turboprops, including a new 90-seat model and replacements for the existing ATR 42 and ATR 72. At the time ATR said the new family would enter service in the second half of the next decade.

Both ATR and Bombardier agree there is increasing interest in larger turboprops given the current high price of fuel and infrastructure constraints at some key airports which restrict jet operations. ATR specifically forecasts demand for 1,060 turobprops in the 80 to 100-seat category over the next 20 years.

"A market opportunity exists for larger turboprops," Buckley says.

But he says ATR is only interested in developing a "clean sheet aircraft" with new engines which will be at least 15% more fuel efficient than current powerplants. "We'll wait for a new generation engine," he says.

Bombardier, however, is planning a "fairly straightforward stretch" according to MacKinnon. He says the Q400's current engine, the Pratt and Whitney Canada PW150, is "well proven" and capable of powering the Q400X.

While MacKinnon acknowledges a stretch may not offer the improvement in operating economics a clean sheet aircraft will provide he says Bombardier will be able to bring to market a 90-seat within a much shorter timeframe than ATR. Bombardier has previously indicated the Q400X, if launched, could enter service as early as 2011.

Bombardier is forecasting a market for 2,050 turoboprops in the 60-99 seat category over the next 20 years. MacKinnon would not break this figure down to show exclusively the 80 to 99-seat segment. But he says the Q400X has now been presented to most of Q400 operators and "they are very interested in it".

He adds "we're just looking for the right point in the market" to launch the programme. Another factor he adds is resources since Bombardier has just launched its new CSeries jet.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news