Turboprops have made a spectacular return to the fore, thanks to rocketing fuel prices. But larger regional jets continue to attract orders

This year has marked the revitalisation of the turboprop airliner. With ATR and Bombardier having taken over 100 orders between them, not surprisingly both companies are talking bullishly about significant production heights to meet their rediscovered demand.

But despite the sales success, there seems little prospect of any major technical developments from the turboprop airframers in the short term. The two remaining Western manufacturers – ATR and Bombardier – know that their simple advantage of offering unbeatable operating costs over short sectors as fuel prices sky rocket should ensure that regional carriers come knocking at their doors.

And as the output of new turboprops expands, demand is also increasing for secondhand aircraft for conversion for the cargo role. Almost every manufacturer has developed – or is developing – a cargo modification for their in-service types.

In parallel with the increased popularity of turboprops there has been a sharp decline in demand for the small regional jets. But Bombardier and Embraer have been able to shift their eggs to other baskets.

As well as the increasing number of sales of its Q400 turboprop, Bombardier has seen increasing demand for its CRJ700 and CRJ900 families, and this year introduced some upgrades to ensure they remain competitive with the all-new products coming out of Brazil. It is also evaluating ways of keeping demand strong for its in-service fleet of 50-seat CRJs, with corporate shuttle and package freighter conversions being considered.

Embraer, which recently passed the milestone of 100 E-Jet deliveries, has almost completed the initial development phase of the new family with three of the four variants now earning revenue. All that remains is to complete the E-195 flight-test programme to enable deliveries to begin to launch operator Flybe in August.

Meanwhile, Embraer’s Chinese joint venture is gradually gaining momentum after a slow start, with additional customers and orders being signed for the locally built ERJ-145.

There have been some significant developments in the CIS regional airliner scene during the last 12 months. Flight testing of it first new generation regional jet, the Antonov An-148, is in full swing, with deliveries due to start next year, if certification remains on schedule. Russian production of the An-140 turboprop is also now under way at the Aviakor plant in Samara.

The long-term status of the Sukhoi-led Russian Regional Jet programme is less clear. Although it has commitments from several customers, the RRJ has yet to receive a fully paid up firm order despite promises. With several Western suppliers involved in the programme, the need for a firm order is vital to the programme’s long-term viability.


Source: Flight International