Pontifications: ATR, Q400 replacement not any time soon

By Scott Hamilton

June 5, 2017, © Leeham Co.: The prospect of a new generation turboprop airliner remains as elusive as ever.

This is the clear conclusion from Media Days I attended Tuesday through Friday with Pratt & Whitney and Embraer at their respective Florida operations in West Palm Beach and Melbourne.

There are just two major manufacturers, ATR and Bombardier—and the latter is fading fast. ATR now has about 80% of the backlog. Bombardier is down to about two dozen unfilled orders.

Aging technology

John Slattery, president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aircraft, said Friday that the technology of the ATR-42/72 and Bombardier Q400 is aging.

John Slattery, president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aircraft.

Slattery praised the ATR as a solid workhorse and, noting the Q400’s shrinking backlog, doubted there is a future for the latter airplane.

He made the remarks during an informal press gaggle at the end of the company’s pre-Paris Air Show Media Days at its Melbourne (FL) executive jet engineering and production facility.

Embraer looks at market

Embraer has looked at re-entering the turboprop commercial airliner arena. When LNC first visited EMB’s production and executive office facilities two years ago in Brazil, officials acknowledged then a second family of airplanes is desirable to supplement the EJet.

With a corporate strategy precluding a family of planes larger than the 133-seat E195-E2, which enters service in 2019 (following the slightly smaller E190-E2 next year), a turboprop is the alternative.

But there are obstacles.

The research and development expense would be as much as the EJet for a much smaller market, estimated at about 2,500 over 20 years.

Slattery said last week that with simultaneous development of the E2 three-member family, a two-member Phenom and three-member Legacy families—all clean-sheet designs—and the military KC-390, shareholders are looking for more return on investment.

Launching another new development soon for a 90-seat turboprop is not something shareholders may view favorably.

Furthermore, Slattery said, there may only be room for one major turboprop manufacturer, ATR, he said.

Engine development

Still, a next generation turboprop engine is being developed by Pratt & Whitney and GE Aviation.

PW owns the market, as the exclusive engine supplier on the ATR and Q400 with the PW120 and PW150 respectively.

At the PW air show Media Days that immediately preceded Embraer’s, at the former’s GTF

John Saabas, president of Pratt & Whitney Canada. Source: PWC.

and military engine production center in West Palm Beach (FL), John Saabas, president of PW-Canada, said development continues. An engine will be ready when the airframers decide to launch a new airplane.

“People have talked about a next generation turboprop, going to a 90-passenger airplane. Discussions have slowed down in that market quite a bit,” he said. “We are going to be ready when that comes.” Saabas sees a 15%-20% improvement in fuel burn and have internal technological advances. “We certainly will be ready for it.”

PT6 improvements

“We take GE very seriously,” Saabas said in response to an LNC question. He noted that Cessna picked the GE competitor to the PT6 for an airplane that will probably replace the King Air at the lower end of the market.

“We see that as a very serious threat,” he said. GE talks about a 16:1 pressure ratio as the “be all and end all.” The PT6 has a 14:1 ratio.

Saabas said PWC will improve the engine software (FADEC) and the fuel burn on the PT6. Other technology will make operations in grass and dirt runways more efficient. Growth will be on the 2,000 shp size of engine, he said—which includes the helicopter market.

8 Comments on “Pontifications: ATR, Q400 replacement not any time soon

  1. What has me scratching my head is that they have proven you can throttle the Q400 back to ATR speeds and come close to ATR economics.

    Granted the larger engines cost.

    But it gives you ability to do things the ATR cannot, a fair amount of high terrain and where you can go and what you can do if you loose an engine (or can’t do)

    The ability to cruise slow but makeup time if needed and meet schedule would seem to be valuable.

    Operators do not seem to feel that way.

    The Alaska Airlines Bastion is going to jets more and more.

    Of course operators might want to consider what happens to price if they allow it to fall to a single offering as well.

    • I agree. In my part of the world, the local airline has Q300’s with 50 seats and ATR 72s with 68 seats. No need to compete with jets as they have A320s for that
      Im sure they would have jumped at the chance of having one type with two sizes!

  2. I think it is too soon to write-off the Q-400. Bombardier will find ways to tweek its product to make it more competitive. They now offer a 90 seat high density config. vs ATR’s max 78 seat. The Q-400 is 30% faster with better maintenance costs. Lets not forget that they have a 100 plane production order with Russia that is on hold due to sanctions. Bombardier could bring down production costs by outsourcing major components to its Mexican facility.

    • I hope so, I hate to see what I think as one of the icons go away.

  3. It’s a paradox that the Q400 is supposedly “fading fast”, despite being the more advanced, faster and higher-capacity aircraft of the two.

    It would also be interesting to see an up-to-date tally of “career” ATR vs Q-Series fatal crashes, weighted for total sales. Report of ATR crashes are not infrequent, for whatever reason.

  4. The ATR has an unquestionable advantage in the segment of 50-70 passengers, with no prospect of reversal of situation by BBD.

    Embraer should study together with GE the possibility of using new propellers (~ 5000 hp) to create a large turboprop between the E175 / E190, aiming at short, high-density routes, taking advantage of the E2 investment.

    A modern design, full fly-by-wire and with size capable of carrying 90-110 passengers with good comfort could shake the segment.

    The Asian, Latin American and European markets would be the targets.

  5. Embraer could dominate the future large turboprop segment by starting with the E2 jet platform. They clearly have the most modern and comfortable fuselage configuration in the “regional” market.

    Nothing less than the E195 fuselage length (120 seats to 146 max economy) for a new turboprop. That would produce incredibly low costs per available seat mile. Lighten it up a little from the jet, and voilà…a game changer for both feeding hubs and shorter distance (200-500 mi) point-to-point services.

    Such a plane could even disrupt the lower-capacity mainline B73s and A32s zipping around the US on short-haul missions. Globally, they could free up such equipment for longer routes as capacity continues to expand in much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

    The same economics that are driving the push toward the A321neo, B737-MAX10 and the rumored A322 will most definitely support a large turboprop with excellent economics.

    So for me the question is this: Will Embraer jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late? Or will we be stuck for a couple more decades flying around in old-technology turboprops with new engines strapped on…

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