Developing a new commercial turboprop is under renewed analysis at Embraer, and could provide an eventual substitution for the Brazilian manufacturer’s small regional jets.

In the past Embraer backed away from a new turboprop, concluding that the market, which includes ATR and Bombardier, was too small for three players. But demand for larger turboprops has been increasing due to soaring fuel prices.

“We definitely have a much higher focus on the issue than in the past,” revealed Embraer president and CEO Frederico Fleury Curado during a press briefing this morning in Washington DC.

Part of Embraer’s consideration is whether a new turboprop might prove a good substitute for 50-seaters down the road “when ERJs become obsolete”, says Curado.

In today’s environment, he notes, “nobody is counting on selling new 50-seaters”. However, several factors such as fuel burn, passenger perception, range and speed and “other real issues have to be addressed” as part of the firm’s turboprop analysis.

By 2015 the oldest ERJ-145 will be about 20 years old. “Even with fuel prices high, there will be need to be [able] to connect small communities with right-sized aircraft,” Embraer executive VP commercial aviation Mauro Kern recently told press during a briefing at the airframer’s headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos.

For long routes, jets will still be required, but for short-range operations, the company sees “room for turboprops”, says Kern.

Embraer’s main rival, Bombardier, recently altered its 20-year forecast, saying that even as expectations for smaller aircraft diminish, demand for types in the 60-99-seat sector has improved, requiring 6,100 for the 2008-27 period, of which regional jets will comprise about 60% and 40% turboprops.

Even as Embraer resumes analysis on turboprops, the company’s “view today” would not be in line with Bombardier’s breakdown, says Curado.

The airframer currently enjoys a robust orderbook for its E-Jets family of aircraft. It sees a “stable market” in the 60- to 90-seat range, and growth in the 90- to 120 seat range. But Curado concedes that the days when massive E-Jets deals would be brokered with individual carriers may be over.

Nonetheless, he notes, some current E-Jets customers continue to hold large amounts of options. These include JetBlue Airways, which according to Flight’s ACAS database holds options for 99 E-190s, and US Airways, which holds options for 60 of the same type.

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Source: Flight International