The resurgence in demand for turboprops that began a few years ago shows no sign of diminishing, as soaring fuel prices prompt airlines to seek more efficient short-haul transport aircraft. And just as market interest in regional jets is now focused on larger types, a call for turboprops in the 90-seat range is being increasingly fielded by incumbents ATR and Bombardier.

Other manufacturers fighting for a foothold in the turboprop sector include China's Xian Aircraft, which recently rolled out its first MA600, an updated version of the MA60 turboprop. Even Embraer is considering re-entering the market, having stepped up analysis of turboprops.

Admitting the trend has been towards a larger-capacity turboprop, ATR prefers to offer an all-new aircraft, but it may decide to offer a larger derivative of the ATR 72 if Bombardier decides to stretch its 78-seat Q400 to 90 seats.

ATR-72 500
 © ATR

Bombardier has been studying a stretched version of the Q400, dubbed the Q400X. It has not yet green-lighted the programme, but remains confident there is a market for a larger model. Bombardier president Pierre Beaudoin says there is "great potential for the Q400X in the long term".

While both companies deliberate over larger-capacity turboprops, they are updating current offerings.

Last October ATR detailed plans to offer the ATR 42 and 72 -600 as a successor to the -500 series. The new -600 models, to enter service in 2010, will sport advanced integrated avionics from Thales, improving its capability in adverse weather. The -600 will also have higher-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M engines and improved performance in hot and high conditions. It will also have increased payload, lighter baseline weights, enhanced cabin comfort and an electronically linked maintenance system.

Bombardier is offering a NextGen version of its Q400, with a suite of upgrades and improvements, mainly to the cabin. No engine modifications are planned, but the operating manual will be altered to improve fuel burn in certain conditions. Bombardier is also studying whether it can ramp up Q400 production.

Xian, meanwhile, is working towards gaining Chinese certification for its MA600, which seats 50 to 60 passengers. The first MA600 will ultimately be delivered to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China in Guanghan, Sichuan province.

Source: Flight International