French general-aviation manufacturer Socata is to unveil plans at the Paris air show in June to launch a range of light aircraft re-engined with the new diesel engine it is developing with Renault Sport.

The new Morane line-up (the name is taken from the original Morane-Saulnier company which was absorbed by the Aerospatiale subsidiary in the 1970s) will be powered by 135kW (180hp), 185kW and 225W versions of the engine. An initial example, called the Banc Volante and based on the TB20 Trinidad, will be presented (but will not fly) at Le Bourget, along with a mock-up of the fully equipped aircraft.

Precise details of the new aircraft are not being revealed, but, when the engine alliance was announced in January, Socata president Jean-Marc de Raffin Dourny said that the re-engined TB20 would be certificated in the second quarter of 1998 with the 185kW MR250 version of the four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.

Ownership costs would be reduced by around 30%, he adds, mainly through increased reliability and the use of kerosene fuel instead of avgas.

After years of almost stagnant sales, Socata has revealed a 44% increase in activity since January, compared to the same period in 1996, with orders for light aircraft growing by 228% and a sales backlog of 220 aircraft.

Three US contracts for the turbine-powered TB700 business/ utility aircraft have been signed since the company re-organised its Socata Aircraft subsidiary, which has been relocated to North Perry, Florida. Socata claims that several options for the type have been taken by customers, building up sales of 130 units to date, following orders in January by the French air force for three aircraft .

The company adds that negotiations with potential operators in Asia are under way for delivery of "several aircraft" later this year.

Besides the renewal of its range, Socata is also negotiating with Airbus Industrie and Lockheed Martin to restart subcontracting activities. The company expects sales of Fr800 million($145 million) and a return to financial equilibrium in 1997.

Source: Flight International