The challenges in bringing a new turboprop to market

By Philippe Poutissou
Special to Leeham News and Comment
Introduction
Dec. 15, 2014: The market for turboprop aircraft has been strong for nearly a decade, yet there has been limited new product development in the segment. This has some regional airlines getting nervous about their future, in particular those who specialize in serving smaller markets with 30- to 50- seat turboprops built in the 1980s and 1990s. Which aircraft will replace the robust, but not indestructible, Bombardier DHC-8, Saab 340 and Embraer Brasilias?

Setting aside the technical challenges of developing and certifying a new aircraft type (of which there is ample evidence), the market challenge for smaller turboprops comes down to a question of limited revenue potential. Due to overall pressure on aircraft prices and demand that is highly fragmented, the business case for an aircraft OEM becomes risky and difficult to justify.

Summary

  • High-yield regional routes are increasingly rare and harder to protect.
  • Turboprop acquisition costs must remain in line with those of larger jets on a per-seat basis.
  • The 30- to 50- seat turboprop market is a highly fragmented, replacement market with limited potential for large volume orders.

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Assessment of Lessors in Airbus and Boeing backlogs, narrow- vs wide-body

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Introduction

Nov. 30, 2014: Airlines now lease about 50% of their aircraft under a variety of mechanisms: operating, finance, leveraged and Islamic leases, just to name a few.

There are operating leasing, special purpose and “house” companies. There are leasing units of investment banks, insurance companies and a host of others.

Ireland is a popular leasing venue because of favorable tax laws.

The Big Four airframe OEMs have long sold aircraft directly to lessors, and the emerging airframe OEMs, COMAC and Irkut, have seen orders placed by emerging lessors in their home countries. ATR, the turbo-prop OEM, also has received orders from lessors.

Today we look at the lessor relationships with Airbus and Boeing.

Summary

  • Lessors represent a significant, but still a minority, part of the Airbus and Boeing backlogs.
  • Widebody airplanes constitute a small portion of lessor orders.
  • Boeing has more widebody lessors orders than Airbus.
  • Airbus has a larger lessor order book than Boeing.

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Odds and Ends: Rescuing a polar bear cub; new turbo-prop, sort of

Rescuing a polar bear cub: Long-time readers of this column know we’re fascinated with polar bears, so when we received the following press release, we couldn’t help but share the story with you.

Mi-26 saves polar bear cub

The crew of a Russian Mi-26 military helicopter from the Eastern Military District Army Aviation airbase saved a baby polar bear from starving to death in the Arctic, after the young bear became separated from its mother.
Polar bear cubThe Mi-26 was carrying out a routine transport flight in the Arctic zone, delivering goods from Anadyr to Wrangel Island, when one of the crew spotted a lone polar bear cub wandering along the Chukotka shore. The crew carried out several sweeps of the area, but there was no trace of the cub’s mother. The decision was therefore taken to pick up the polar bear cub.

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“We need more than one family,” says Embraer COO

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Now open to all Readers. (Nov. 29, 2014)

Introduction
Oct. 15, 2014: Embraer had the opportunity to design a clean-sheet airplane as a successor to the E-Jet to respond to the Bombardier CSeries, with the 100-110 seat CS100 a direct competitor to the E-190/195.

But after Airbus and Boeing launched the A320neo and 737 MAX families, including the small A319neo and 737-7 MAX, officials chose the more conservative play to re-engine the E-Jet at an estimated cost of $1.7bn. An entirely new airplane meant up-sizing to be directly competitive with the CS300 and the Baby Airbus and Boeing. This would have been a crowded field that didn’t make sense.

That said, this is an industry that requires long-term planning. Luis Carlos Affonso, SVP of Operations and COO Commercial Aviation, says Embraer needs more than one family of airplanes. The question is, what becomes the next family.

Summary

  • Re-engining the E-Jet was the best bet for Embraer.
  • Strong customer base provides ready market for the E-Jet E2.
  • Another family of airplanes could be a turbo-prop, taking advantage of Bombardier’s weakeness; or
  • Another family would mean up-gauging into the 130-150 seat or higher sector, the traditional domain of Airbus and Boeing.

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Bombardier woes go beyond CSeries

The news last week that Bombardier reorganized its business units, laid off another 1,800 employees and saw the retirement of Guy Hachey, president and CEO of the aerospace division, was viewed by some media and observers as an indictment of the CSeries program. While it’s certainly true that delays in the program weigh heavily on BBD, the problems don’t stop with CSeries.

Bombardier has 203 firm orders and 310 commitments for CSeries. This delivery stream doesn't include any potential rescheduling as a result of the grounding of the Flight Test fleet from May as a result of the engine incident.

Bombardier has 203 firm orders and 310 commitments for CSeries. This delivery stream doesn’t include any potential rescheduling as a result of the grounding of the Flight Test fleet from May as a result of the engine incident.

Slow sales of the CRJ, Q400 and business jets–as well as program development issues with a new corporate jet–all combined to drag down financial performance and bleed cash. Bombardier doesn’t have the balance sheet strength of Boeing or Airbus, nor strong sales of other airplane family members, to weather the challenges of new airplane development programs.

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Farnborough Air Show, July 17: Orders summary, reflections of the show

Orders continued to trickle in as the Farnborough Air Show winds down (there could be others not listed here).

  • Airbus: Transaero, LOI for 12 A330neos and eight A330ceos; Hong Kong Aviation Capital firms up an order for 40 A320neo and 30 A321neo aircraft, announced at the Paris Air Show last year. Here is the Airbus wrap up press release.
  • Boeing: Summarizes its performance at FAS with this press release; 201 orders and commitments.

Items of interest:

Overall reflections:

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Farnborough Air Show, July 16: Orders Summary

Here are the orders we’ve seen for today (there could be more); this should pretty well do it for the show, though it does continue through Friday and there probably will be a few more deals:

  • Airbus: Air Mauritius, MOU for four A350-900s.
  • ATR: Myanma Airways, six ATR 72-600s with options for six.
  • Boeing: After saying he was in no hurry to finalize the 777X orders, U-Turn Al (Akbar Al-Baker) did just that–Qatar Airways signed the contract for the 50 announced at the Dubai Air Show last November, with 50 options; Qatar also orders and options eight (4+4) 777Fs; Hainan Airlines, MOU for 50 737-8s; MG Aviation Limited, two 787-9s; Air Algerie, two 737-700Cs.
  • Bombardier: Nok Air converted two previously held options to firm orders for the Q400; Unidentified commitment from an existing customer for five CSeries; Unidentified order for seven CS300s and added six options; now at 513 orders and commitments.
  • CFM: 80 LEAP-1A engines (for A320neo) from Mexico’s Interjet.

Items of interest:

  • Ready for a 12 hour flight in the Bombardier Q400 turbo-prop? It will soon be available. Marshall Aerospace sent us this press release:
    Auxiliary fuel tanks for Bombardier Q400: Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group and Bombardier Aerospace are developing an External Auxiliary Fuel System solution for the Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft.The solution, which will be available as an official Bombardier option, will provide up to an additional 10,000lb of fuel in two external pannier tanks allowing the aircraft to fulfill a whole range of missions requiring additional range and endurance, allowing this turboprop platform to be able to sustain operations of up to 12 hours.
  • Although Airbus CEO Farbice Bregier said “no” to an A380neo, reported in The Seattle Times and linked by us earlier, today Aviation Week quotes Airbus COO-Customers John Leahy as saying a decision on the A380neo will come next year–which supports our commentary that we didn’t believe the A380neo issue is dead. Airchive reports that A350 chief Didier Evard hasn’t ruled out an A350-1100, either, just as we also noted in our commentary.
  • GE wanted to be the sole source on the A330neo, reports Aviation Week, which also explains why Airbus chose Rolls-Royce.
  • Flight Global has this story explaining how Airbus plans to be “weight neutral” for the A330neo vs the A330ceo.

Farnborough Air Show, July 15: Orders summary

Here are the orders and commitments announced today that we saw–there could be others we haven’t seen:

  • Airbus: Avolon (a lessor) ordered 15 A330neos; CIT Aerospace, MOU for 16 A330-900s, five A321neos; SMBC Aviation (lessor), 110 A320neo and five A320ceo aircraft; BOC Aviation, 36 Airbus A320ceo and seven A320neo family 17 of which will be fore the A321 family; AirAsiaX, MOU 50 A330-900s.
  • ATR: Air Lease Corp. purchased seven ATR-72-600s.
  • Boeing: Intrepid Aviation, 6+4 777-300ERs; Air Lease Corp, six 777-300ERs, 20 737-8s; CIT Aerospace, 10 787-9s.
  • Bombardier: One Q400 from Horizon Air; revealed an unidentied customer, Abu Dhabi Aviation, for two Q400s; LOI from Falcon Aviation for five Q400s.
  • CFM: Air Lease Corp. ordered the LEAP-1A for 20 A320neo family aircraft.
  • Embraer: Azul Air, LOI for 30+20 E-195 E2 (and becomes launch customer for this sub-type); Fuji’s Dream Airlines, 3+3 E-175s, a previously unidentified customer.
  • Mitsubishi: six MRJ90s from Air Mandalay.
  • Pratt & Whitney: SaudiGulf Airlines orders the V2500 to power four A320ceos; Philippine Airlines executes a previous LOI to a firm order for the GTF for 10 A320neos; BOC Aviation, V2500 for eight of the A320ceo family listed above; International Airlines Group (Vueling Airlines), V2500 for 30 A320ceo family.
  • Viking Air: Air Seychelles, two Twin Otters.

Items of note:

  • Airbus’ John Leahy says he expects a total of 100 A330neo orders from FAS;
  • BOC Aviation endorsed the launch of the A330neo but didn’t (yet) order any.
  • Boeing said its new 777X will have a cabin altitude of 6,000 ft, the same as the 787, larger windows than its 777 Classic and the A350; features borrowed from the 787 and many that go beyond the 787 passenger experience; and lower noise.
  • Bombardier launched its Q400 Combi, seating 50 passengers and carrying 8,200 lbs of cargo.
  • Steven Udvar-Hazy, CEO of Air Lease Corp, which has a large order book for the ATR-72-600, says, the Q400 is a good aircraft, but “much more expensive to operate” vs ATR. [However, that’s at the Q400’s high cruising speed. If it’s throttled back, the operating costs are said by BBD to be comparable.–Editor.]

Farnborough Air Show, July 14: Orders Summary

Here are orders that were announced on the first official day of the Farnborough Air Show (at least the ones we’ve seen from Seattle–feel free to add to the list if we’ve missed any):

  • Airbus: from Air Lease Corp: 25 A330neos and 60 A321neos. British Airways converts 20 A320neo options to firm orders; 20 A320neos from AerCap.
  • ATR: NAC places firm order for 75 ATR 42-600s.
  • Boeing: Announced what had been leaked before the show–30 737-8s from Monarch Airlines, an important “flip” from incumbent Airbus; six 737 MAX 8s and four Next-Generation 737-800s from Okay Airlines; six 787-9 Dreamliners and five additional 737 MAX 9 from lessor Avolon.
  • Bombardier signed LOIs with: Chinese airline Loong Air for 20 CS100s; Petra Airlines of Jordon for two CS100s and two CS300s; and it converted a previously announced LOI for Falcon Air of Abu Dhabi for two CS300s to a firm order. BBD also revealed a previously unidentified follow-on order for three CS300s from Air Baltic. This was announced at the Singapore Air Show.
  • CFM International won the large engine order from American Airlines to power its A319neo/A321neo fleet. We reported June 19 that this deal would come down to commercial terms, according to American CFO Derek Kerr. Given CFM’s position on the Boeing 737-800, 737-8 and Airbus A319ceo; and GE Aviation’s presence on AA’s widebody fleet, plus whatever maintenance agreements also exist, CFM/GE was in a position to offer commercial terms that Pratt & Whitney could not when offering the GTF. Also as previously noted, CFM won the easyJet A320neo family order for 270 engines.
  • Embraer: 50 “reconfirmable” and 50 options for the E-175-E2 from Trans States Airlines of the USA.
  • Mitsubishi: Eastern Airlines signed an MOU for 20 firm and 20 purchase rights for this MRJ90. Parenthetically, we’re happy that Mitsubishi also announced it will test the MRJ in Moses Lake (WA).
  • Pratt & Whitney won the GTF order for VivaAerobus’s 40+40 A320 fleet and the V2500 for 12 A320ceos.

Things of note:

  • Airbus predicts sales of 1,000 A330neos, plans two year overlap in production of A330ceo. EIS 4Q2017.

The sniping between Airbus and Boeing continues:

  • “The only way a passenger will know he’s not on a 787 is that the seats will be bigger,” says John Leahy of the A330neo vs the Boeing 787. Leahy gives good quote.
  • Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, calls the A330 an airplane of the 1980s. (Careful, Ray: the 737 MAX and the 747-8 are airplanes of the 1960s….)

Odds and Ends: No 90-seat ATR for now; 777X work; JAL says A350 was ‘better;’

No 90-seat ATR: Aviation Week reports that for now Airbus Group, which owns 50% of ATR, won’t green-light a 90-seat ATR turbo-prop due to the adverse impact a development program would have on profits.

Competing for 777X work: Electroimpact is based near Paine Field in Washington and it supplies Boeing and Airbus. It’s interested in participating in the Boeing 777X work. The Everett Herald has this story focusing on the company. Meanwhile, Reuters has this story about the pressures the Airbus and Boeing supply chains are under to cut costs.

JAL: A350 was ‘better:’ Japan Air Lines says its choice of the Airbus A350 was made because the airplane was just “better” than Boeing’s offering. CNBC reports.

No highway in the sky: Just on the ground. See this series of photos to see what we’re talking about.