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