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Embraer commercial chief sees opportunity for new turboprop

Story updated on 9 June to include information from GE.

The head of Embraer's commercial aircraft division sees a potential market for a new-generation turboprop, though he stresses Embraer's primary commercial focus remains on its E-Jet E2 programme.

John Slattery, chief executive of Embraer commercial, says a new turboprop would prove valuable to airlines when operated on routes of 300nm or less and in places like the USA, India and the Asia-Pacific region.

Routes greater than 300nm are served best by regional jets and mainline aircraft, he says.

His comments bring fresh attention to potential opportunity to develop a new-generation turboprop. Such an aircraft would bring fresh designs into a market segment that has not benefitted from recent technological advancements.

Large regional turboprops currently in production include the ATR 42-600, ATR 72-600 and Bombardier Q400 – all of which are upgraded derivatives of decades-old platforms.

ATRs are powered by 2,750shp PW127s, and Q400s are powered by PW150s, with around 5,000shp.

"It's fair to say that the ATR and the Q are old technology – old powerplant technology, old materials on the aircraft," Slattery says. "The market has moved on in terms of capability of engines and materials."

Embraer executives have spoken in the past of turboprop opportunities, as have airline executives.

In 2013, Paulo Cesar de Souza e Silva, who was then head of Embraer's commercial division and is now Embraer chief executive, expressed interest in such a project – but only when new technology and engines became available.

Though demand exists for a roughly 90-seat turboprop, the segment remains a niche, with far fewer sales opportunities than for regional jets, narrowbodies and widebodies. And developing a new turboprop would take years and cost billions of dollars.

Airlines worldwide operate about than 1,800 intermediate and large regional passenger turboprops, compared to some 3,400 regional jets, 14,500 narrowbody jets and about 4,200 widebody aircraft, according to Flight Fleets Analyzer.

Both Bombardier and ATR have reportedly discussed a new design, but neither has committed.

Meanwhile, Airbus, which owns half of ATR, and Boeing continue to target mainline aircraft, while Bombardier remains focused on CSeries and Global business jets.

Though Embraer is developing its E-Jets E2 and KC-390 military transport, those projects are nearing entry-into-service.

New turboprop proposals have also come from India and China. India's National Aerospace Laboratories in 2010 released specifications for a 70-seater called the Regional Transport Aircraft RTA-70, which would be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics. The project has since made little news.

Also, China's AVIC Aircraft is developing its 70-seat MA700 turboprop, with first flight reportedly due in 2018.

Engine makers say they are prepared if an airframe choses to move forward.

Pratt & Whitney Canada is working on its "Next Generation Regional Turboprop" (NGRT) engine for a 70-to-90 seat aircraft, the company says.

"We intend to create a new family of engines that will cover the 4,500shp to 8,000shp envelope, [which] will easily put it into the 90-seat aircraft range, a segment we believe will see strong demand over the coming decade," P&WC tells FlightGlobal.

The company projects the NGRT will be 20% more efficient than existing technology and will deliver a 20% reduction in maintenance costs.

"Our NGRT is now poised for quick entry into service based on extensive testing," says P&WC, without specifying how far development has progressed.

Meanwhile, GE has proposed for a next-generation turboprop engine its CPX38, a derivative of the 7,500shp GE38, which powers the US Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter.

"GE is working on conceptual designs for a next-generation turboprop engine that would meet the 90-seat turboprop space. At [this] point, GE is in discussions with several airframers as to the market size, aircraft size, performance characteristics and other details," the company tells FlightGlobal.

Though few details are available, GE has started work on another, improved engine for the US military, aiming for an 80% improvement in power-to-weight ratio, 45% reduction in production and maintenance costs, 35% less specific fuel consumption and a 20% increase in design life, GE has told FlightGlobal.

That engine, called the Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE), is different than the CPX38, GE notes.

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