Low demand in the turboprop sector has seen more seats shoehorned into existing airframes rather than stretches or new developments. In Russia and China, the need for efficient regional aircraft becomes ever greater, while Western manufacturers face strong entry barriers.
The ATR 72-600 has been outselling the Bombardier Q400, not least because of its lower price, but overall demand remains low. Bombardier has increased Q400 seat capacity to 90 by some internal rearrangement and ATR has done likewise to squeeze 78 seats into some ATR 72s for the Asian market. Both manufacturers are reluctant to stretch their designs further at this time, although enthusiasm may grow when the market picks up.
In the past year Bombardier has announced significant layoffs and sold its amphibious aircraft division to Viking Air, allowing it to concentrate on commercial aircraft and business jets.
Further delays with the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) have allowed Embraer to steal a march on its Japanese rival. The E195-E2, the first of the updated E2 versions of Embraer’s E-Jets, took flight ahead of schedule – then made its show debut at Farnborough in July.
The MRJ haltingly began its long-delayed test programme in November 2015 with the maiden flight of the MRJ90, followed by a brief grounding for modifications and a warning that there might be further structural changes needed. Things seem to have got back on track with the start of a test campaign in the USA and flight of the third MRJ in September.
China’s underdeveloped regional sector, hampered by taxes and landing fees on imported regional jets, is in dire need of a reliable local product. Comac’s ARJ21 limped into service in 2016 after a long gestation, but is probably not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, Embraer is closing its joint-venture business jet assembly line in Harbin, a victim of high taxes on imported parts and government resistance to competition for the ARJ21.
Russia has a desperate need for an aircraft in the 50-seat class to serve regional airports, and four options were put before president Vladimir Putin in May, including licensed production of the Chinese AVIC Xian MA700, development of the Ilyushin Il-114, continuing production of the Antonov An-140, or development of a new design such as the Tupolev Tu-234. Western types have clearly been ruled out, and the revived Il-114 appears to be the development favourite.
Source: Flight International