Subscription RequiredSeventh and final in a series.By Judson Rollins
Jet manufacturers typically introduce a new airplane every 15 years or so.
Commercial turboprops have not innovated to nearly the same extent as jets, with rival manufacturers ATR and De Havilland Canada (and predecessor Bombardier) having produced nearly 95% of the world’s in-service fleet. Although order volume has slowed in recent years, more than 300 aircraft are still on order.
Both manufacturers sell aircraft based on 30+ year old designs. However, the market’s size is probably capped because of turboprops’ relatively low cruise altitude and speed, making them limited alternatives to regional jets beyond roughly 500nm. This limits the return on investment from a clean-sheet design, either from aerodynamic improvements or the use of carbon composites.
Emerging threats lie on the horizon as China’s Xian MA700 nears its first flight and Embraer deliberates re-entering the market with a new design. Given sufficient market acceptance, either would constitute a significant threat not only to ATR and DHC, but potentially also the smaller end of the regional jet market.
ATR has a commanding share of the market; access to Airbus resources adds to ATR’s ability to win future business.
DHC’s dwindling order book and high production costs limit its ability to compete.
Old designs leave the turboprop space ripe for disruption; Embraer may re-enter the market with a clean-sheet design.