It has been bubbling away for years, but the regional-jet market is finally exploding into action. More than a dozen regional-jet types are either under intense study, in development, or in production.

The increased tempo has sent the engine makers into a flurry of activity, and the cut-throat power struggle is every bit as competitive as anything the industry has seen in the high-thrust bracket. The intensity of the competition, added to the uncertainty over the number of projects likely to be stillborn, has increased speculation that more mergers and alliances like the tie-up between Snecma and Pratt & Whitney Canada could soon follow.


Outcome awaited

One of the most eagerly awaited outcomes is that of the battle between General Electric and Snecma/P&WC team to power the Aero International (Regional) AI(R) 70. A decision on the engine for the 70-seater was originally due in April, but lapsed into May as negotiations dragged on. GE, which offered the CF34-8C also under development for the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet Series 700, has faced stiff competition from Snecma/P&WC with its SPW14, and a final decision is now expected at the Paris air show.

Both engines meet the AI(R)70 performance specifications, with the French-Canadian SPW14 "paper" engine naturally exceeding the CF34 derivative by a slight margin. The main stumbling block for AI(R) appears to have been which of the two competing engine suppliers was prepared to offer more in terms of risk sharing and investment in the overall programme. The GE engine has been committed to full development, and GE can also offer the additional advantage of potential fleet and spares commonality with the CRJ-700.

The SPW14, on the other hand, is an all-new powerplant with a raft of new-technology features. The 60-67kN (13,500-15,000lb)-thrust engine has a 1.1m-diameter wide-chord fan and a 4.9:1 bypass ratio, an integrally bladed-rotor high-pressure compressor with four axial and one centrifugal stages, a two-stage high-pressure turbine and a three-stage low-pressure turbine.

The same engines are also pitted against Allison's AE30XX for another potential 70-seater project, Embraer's EMB-170. Allison is thought to be firmly in the driving seat if the Brazilian manufacturer opts to go ahead with either its 70-seat or 30-seat regional jets, as its AE3007 is in production for the EMB-145. Allison is also busy developing a higher-thrust, 42kN, version, dubbed the A1, for a hot-and-high variant of the -145.

The engine will develop 15% more thrust at ISA+17íC, and is due to be certificated by the end of the year. The growth version, previously called the AE3012, has been renamed the AE30XX to reflect the uncertainty over the final-thrust requirement, which could be "anywhere from 10,000lb to 12,000lb", says the engine maker. Allison's plans for the EMB-135 are more predictable, and the company has outlined a 28.5kN variant for the 30-seater, called the AE3007A3.


Canadian competitor

Another variant, known as the AE3007G, is also in contention for Fairchild Dornier's potential 50-seat 528JET programme. This time, however, the odds appear stacked in favour of P&WC, which is offering a version of the PW308B, now in development for the Raytheon Hawker Horizon business jet. Allison's bid is believed to be too costly for the Fairchild Dornier programme, although this possibly reflects the engine maker's unwillingness to spread around its own investment capital rather than the unit price of the engine.

P&WC, on the other hand, already has its PW306B engine selected for the smaller 328JET, and is anxious to capitalise on its victory. The 528JET engine-selection process is due to begin in July, with a decision expected around September. From nowhere, therefore, P&WC has secured a foothold in the regional-jet business and, with potential victory looming in the AI(R)70 struggle, could become a major player overnight.

Another candidate for the 528JET, considered by many as an outsider, is AlliedSignal's prospective AS9000 engine. The Phoenix, Arizona-based engine maker is keeping details of its project to itself for the moment, but is believed to face a possible $300 million development cost to produce the new powerplant. Fairchild Dornier, with many ex-AlliedSignal staff, including president Jim Robinson at the helm, has been pushing the engine maker to take the plunge and commit to the programme. The engine's previous identity was the AS908, which was linked more closely to the LF507, with similar features such as a geared fan.

The change of designation is seen as an attempt by AlliedSignal to distance the project from the ALF502/LF507 family and its troubled history. AlliedSignal, meanwhile, has spent $30 million on a major upgrade for the ALF502/LF507 family which powers the British Aerospace 146 and derivative Avro RJ family. With sales of the RJ continuing at a steady pace, AlliedSignal's LF507 production line is sold out until 1999, and the XRP (extended reliability package) is aimed at encouraging new sales by producing engine-reliability levels of 99.95%.

Such has been the unexpected nature of the Avro RJ sales revival that AI(R) has decided to extend production beyond 2000, when it was originally due to be wound down. AlliedSignal, in parallel, has made plans to keep its LF507 line running to 2005 and beyond.

Another existing "regional jet" with the opportunity for a renewed life is, rather unusually, the Fokker F28. From the ashes of the famous aircraft company has risen a scheme by Fokker Services and Perry Group, a Utah-based aerospace consultancy, to offer the Rolls-Royce Tay 620 to replace the F28's Spey RB183s. The scheme involves stretching the fuselage by a seat row, to balance the added weight of the bigger engine, and Fokker claims that the programme would produce a "Stage 4" regional jet for one-third of the price of an all-new 75-seater. Fokker hopes to make a launch decision around mid-June, although it is believed to be aiming secretly for a Paris announcement. If the project is sanctioned, flight-test and certification programmes are destined to run until March 1999, with first deliveries shortly thereafter.

At the top end of the scale, and arguably almost out of regional-jet territory, is the proposed AE31X family, formerly known as the AE-100/A318. After two years of talk, the programme now seems to be moving, and received a much-needed boost in May, when Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and the newly created Airbus Industrie Asia (AIA) signed an agreement covering its joint development.

The aircraft family, consisting of the 95- to 105-seat AE316 and a 115- to 125-seat AE317, places it firmly in the gap between the proposed AI(R) 70 and the Airbus A319. AIA hopes that the two aircraft will capture around 30% of a market estimated at around 3,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.

The programme provides a great opportunity, therefore, for one of the three engine makers competing for the airliner: BMW Rolls-Royce, CFM International (CFMI) and Pratt & Whitney. BMW R-R is offering the BR715, which is in development for the 100-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-95, and therefore the only one of the three to be on the verge of full production.


Lightweight contender

CFMI's CFM56-9 is a lightweight derivative of its best-selling CFM56 , borrowing many of the newer features of the CFM56-7 developed for the next-generation 737 and marrying them to the robust design of the earlier -3 and -5 versions of the engine. CFMI makes no pretence, however, of having gone all out to develop an all-new regional-jet engine, and is relying instead on market inertia, widespread support and economies of scale to provide an inexpensive winner. P&W, on the other hand, is deliberately aiming its proposed new PW6000 turbofan at the low-operating-cost end of the market, and has therefore designed the engine to be rugged and relatively simple and cheap. At between 77kN and 89kN thrust, the PW6000 could be perceived as the rightful heir to P&W's JT8D.

Pre-development work on the new AE31X begins in early 1998, with business agreements to be in place by the end of this year. The launch of both versions is planned for early 1999, with first flights taking place in 2002 and entry into service the following year. Final assembly would be carried out in China.

Source: Flight International