Bombardier has given its strongest indication yet that it intends to offer a stretch of its 70-seat Q400 turboprop, but the entry date would be beyond 2015.
Rival ATR has already said it would not make any firm decision this year on launching a 90-seat aircraft because it is focusing on certification of its -600 series.
"Of course we have a bigger Q400 in mind. There is definitely room for a 90-seat Q400," said Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Gary Scott during a pre-Paris air show briefing in Geneva.
"It's probably sometime in the second half of this decade. And we expect there will be competition too."
Engine manufacturers GE and Pratt & Whitney Canada are entrenched in research dedicated to developing engines for larger turboprops in the 90-seat category, and both believe they could bring a powerplant to market in around 2016.
Bombardier vice-president of marketing Philippe Poutissou, speaking at a Regional Airline Association event in Nashville in May, said the company already had a suitable platform. Unlike "the other guys", he said, Bombardier did not have to reference its potential 90-seater as a new aircraft.
But Poutissou explained that Bombardier needed to evaluate which changes were more valuable than commonality.
Examining an engine change to produce an optimal larger version of the turboprop is "the largest investment required", he said. An airframer needs to ensure market support before opting to shift to a different engine. If customers do not press for an engine change on the Q400, Bombardier could deliver a stretched aircraft featuring common systems "more quickly".
Three options exist for engine offerings on a larger turboprop, said Poutissou. Keeping the same engine obviously would not result in significant improvement in fuel consumption, but additional seats result in some economic improvement, he said.
A second option is to tweak the existing Pratt & Whitney engine for improved "performance benefits in the same envelope", Poutissou said, citing a 3% improvement gained from the transition to the General Electric GE34-3A1 to the -3B1 for its CRJ100/200s. Introducing a new engine would wipe out commonality but offer the largest reduction in fuel consumption.