Any lingering doubts about whether Bombardier plans to launch a stretched version of its 78-seat Q400 turboprop were erased yesterday when the firm's commercial aircraft president Gary Scott proclaimed the Q400X to be "definitely part of our future".
Bombardier has spent the last few years studying a stretch of the Q400 for possible introduction in 2013-14, although it has not detailed the exact size of the proposed new variant or committed to this timeframe.
"There are some customers who would like a larger Q Series today but because of our large backlog for Q400s and continuing demand, we don't see a sense of urgency", says Scott, noting that Bombardier recently increased production of the Q400. The company has not disclosed its new level of output, however.
Nonetheless, as interest in a larger turboprop continues to build, Bombardier is readying its response.
Even with a stretched Q400 is in Bombardier's sights, the Canadian airframer has shifted downwards its latest 20-year forecast for the 60- to 99-seat sector. It now sees a requirement for 5,800 aircraft, some 300 fewer aircraft than estimated for the 2008-27 period.
Demand in the 20- to 59-seat sector is predicted to reach just 300 aircraft from 2009 to 2028, representing a reduction of 200 aircraft over last year's forecast.
These reductions correlate to a trend by airlines to make an "accelerated drive" to larger aircraft, says Bombardier, which predicts demand in the 100- to 149-seat segment over the next 20 years will reach 6,300 aircraft - the same level it forecasted last year. Bombardier's response to this market is the 110/130-seat CSeries mainline family.
Overall, the company's 20-year commercial aircraft forecast sees demand for 12,400 deliveries in the 20- to 149-seat market, worth about $589 billion.
The business aircraft market, which has been hard hit by the global economic crisis, will endure a more dramatic reduction in demand than the commercial side. Bombardier's 10-year business aircraft forecast predicts 11,500 deliveries from 2009 to 2018 versus the 13,200 deliveries predicted last year.
"The financial turbulence being felt around the globe has placed a significant focus on the challenges facing the aviation industry, particularly within the business jet sector," says Bombardier Aerospace vice-president, strategy and business development Mairead Lavery, adding that the firm anticipates "continued volatility in the aerospace industry in the near-term".
However, she says, despite the current recession, market fundamentals are strong in the long term. "As the world begins to emerge from this economic crisis, demand should gradually return and future prospects remain solid."