Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of airliner development. Part10. What aircraft to develop.

By Bjorn Fehrm, Henry Tam and Andrew Telesca.

July 2, 2021, ©. Leeham News: It’s time to start our aircraft project, where we discuss aircraft development from preliminary planning to fleet support and look at how the certification rules influence our work.

The first part of any aircraft project should focus on understanding the market your project will enter. Our project idea is to develop a Green aircraft for the 19 seat passenger market.

Figure 1. Beech 1900D 19 seat feeder airliner. Source: Wikipedia.

The 19 seat airliner market

The first that must be done is to understand the market you want to compete in. A lot of this work can be done before a formal project starts as it requires little manpower and thus cost.

There is non-cost market research available and you can get access to market fleet databases for a reasonable fee that details how the market’s existing airliners are used.

To give an example of market research for the 19 seater market, we will use the research from Japan Aircraft Development Corporation, JADC. It’s one of the few independent commercial aircraft market research organizations. Most other available data are from the OEMs, like Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, ATR, etc.

JADC is unique in breaking out the below 19 seat market as its own segment in its market forecast, Figure 2.

Figure 2. JADC 2019 to 2040 turboprop market segment forecast. Source: JADC.

The research says the market had 1196 aircraft in use World-Wide in 2019. The expected delivery of newly produced aircraft from 2020 to 2040 is 632 aircraft, whereas 130 aircraft operating during 2019 will remain in the market.

This means 32 new aircraft per year enter the market to replace used aircraft. As the market goes from 1,196 19 seaters to 762 by 2040, we are entering a shrinking market, according to JADC. We must also understand where these will be sold and delivered.

Is the market in North America or Europe? Or is the dominant sales in the booming Asian market? This is not detailed on a seat segment basis in the JADC presentation, just the total of the above seat ranges per region. It’s likely JADC has this data, but it could demand a fee for such detailed information.

Understand the details about the market

With a market of 32 new aircraft delivered per year, it’s essential to understand what competition is there and how this will change until you enter the market some six to eight years down the line.

To get this understanding we need to list the main competitors and their sales and usage. Below is an incomplete list we put together for this series:

In production aircraft:

  • Twin Otter, nonpressurized, 985 produced to date, in production.
  • Do 228, nonpressurized, 370 produced to date, in production.

Figure 3. Twin Otter 19 seater. 985 produced to date. Source: Wikipedia.

Out of production types with sizeable production runs and aircraft still in the market;

  • Beech 1900, pressurized, 695 produced 1982 to 2002, 470 in service.
  • CASA C-212, nonpressurized, 580 produced 1971-2012. About 250+ in service.
  • EMB 110 Bandeirante, nonpressurized, 501 produced 1968-1990, 170 in service.
  • Jetstream 31, pressurized, 386 produced 1980-1993, 70 in service.
A market with a wide variety of usage

When we look at the list of aircraft in production we see that these are utility-oriented non-pressurized aircraft ((Twin Otter, Do228), and the airline-oriented pressurized ones are out of production (Beech 1900, Jetstream 31).

For a new entrant into the market, it necessary to understand why the market has this division. This is where databases with usage statistics can help.

As an example, let’s look at the Beech 1900. It was produced in 695 units where the non-standing room 1900C covered the years 1984 to 1992. This earlier version, with a cabin derived from the Beech King Air 200 cross-section, is now primarily used as a freighter, Figure 4. The stand-up 1900D is 58% in use as a regional airliner, on the other hand, produced between 1984 to 2002. So we definitely need a standing room cabin for this segment if we go for the commuter segment.

Figure 4. The usage of the Beech 1900. Source: Leeham Co.

We must also understand how simple, boxy aircraft like CASA C-212 can have production runs of over 500 units, whereas the more well-known feeder type, Jetstream 31, only was produced in 386 units.

Are there learnings to be drawn from this? One conclusion is the utility and third world transport market is larger than the classical feeder line market in this segment, at least historically.

Figure 5. The CASA C-212 Aviocar was produced in 580 units until 2012. Source: Wikipedia.

This type of research must be done at an early stage of an aircraft project, even before the formal project starts with its Pre-launch phase.

With an understanding of the market one aims to compete in, putting down what type of aircraft to develop is the next step.

The worst thing one can do as a project is design one’s pet idea of an aircraft and then search for a market for it. This ends in money lost and no aircraft sold most of the time.

We go through the following steps in an aircraft program in the next Corner when we construct an overall program plan.

8 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of airliner development. Part10. What aircraft to develop.

  1. Very interesting series.

    One issue that I noticed, even though it is formally correct, when I look at the numbers of JADC, is that there are lots of 14 seat planes out there. They are somehow a very competitive alternative to a true 19 seater it seems. Not sure if it is the most common, but I had the impression, the entire Carribean is served by Cessna 208 Grand Caravans.

    • Could it be the 19 seaters all mentioned are all 2 engines, while Cessna 208 is a single TP , and of course was useful with a larger cargo door added in some versions.
      For the Beech 1900D in Air NZ colours shown, air fleets shows its no longer in service by the operator Eagle Air which closed in 2016. Its a tough market in that seat capacity

    • I’ve been a passenger on an Grand Caravan and Antanov An-2 many times. Its difficult to imagine the use of a 19 seater to a remote community (say mining operation or some kind of cattle or reindeer farming). These places if not islands are usually accessible only by river barge if in the jungle or when rivers are thawed & navigable if in the arctic, or 6 wheel drive truck at seasonable times of year (when there is no monsoon or the rivers are frozen and can be driven on). The 19 seat is simply too large and too expensive due to its twin engines and 2-3 crew. A Grand Caravan can carry huge loads, I’ve seen water tanks the size of a European hatchback in them so they can get in most spare parts. Folks use them for monthly shopping trips.

  2. Beech has certainly pushed the Queenair a long way.

    (Via the KingAir turboprop derivative.)

    The 1900D is a frankenplane in the sense of unusual bulging and aerodynamic addons.
    – tall cabin on pressurized fuselage
    – endplates hanging down from horizontal stab
    – strakes on rear fuselage (common these days, I forget who invented them, they were available on KingAirs in the late 80s)

    Base model doesn’t even have antiskid braking. Pacific Coastal recently obtained two with anti-skid, a good idea for the wet coast winters and spray washed coastal runways. (PCA flies north into BC from Vancouver, including over mountains. It now flies Saab 340s, which it is experienced with, for WestjetLink out of Calgary.) Has flown Bandeirante and Brazilia, and Goose amphibian in the past (but botched that VFR flying with two bad crashes, otherwise seems a good operator).

  3. A suggestion for future post: The cost of DC fast charging. I noticed Bjorn mentioned in a subscription based post that battery electric airplanes are assumed to have lower energy cost. Walk up prices for DC fast charging for cars in Europe have now surpassed $1/kWh at some networks. Many car makers sponsor the DC fast charing price, like f.ex. Tesla or MB. The car makers can’t do this forever, of course. Are these new prices for DC Fast Charging indicative of the true cost of delivering that service? Will the providers figure out a way to make it affordable? What does it mean for Aviation if it turns out only slow charging has lower energy cost, while fast charging has (much) higher energy cost than fossil fuels?

    • In the case of eVTOL Volocopter has decided that in order to get sufficient turn around times and so as to optimise battery life they will use exchangeable battery packs rather than fast charging into the Volocopter.

      Fast charging is the wrong way to go with electric vehicles but its there as a promotion and to overcome ‘range anxiety’ should the EV owner decide to undertake a 600 km inter city drive.

      EV should be on slow charge as much as possible because:
      1 Slow charges are more efficient and vastly more sparing of battery life.
      2 Fast charging severely strains the electrical distribution network maybe even forcing standby generators to activate or requiring network batteries.

      EV that were on charge as much as possible (at work, at home, at public car parks) etc would charge intelligently when electrical power was available and would in fact be able to return energy back to the network to help it deal with peak loads.

      We now have the situation in California where some apartment dwellers have purchased Tesla EV but do not have charging facilities at home and have to que for long periods to get access to a fast charger. In most countries we don’t even have significant sources of CO2 emission free energy.

      I would suggest that the pluggable hybrid makes far more sense for now. These are simply hybrids in which the electric motor has been enlarged 50% and a battery sufficient to provide about 22km of driving included. Battery life is about 16000 cycles. For most people this will get them to and from work especially if charging is provided at work. If there is a busy holiday weekend there is no taxing of the fast charge network and a carbon neutral fuel could be used.

  4. It seems to me that it is no longer financially viable (let alone possible) to design a new type, take it to certification, put it into production, find customers and then support it for the next fifty years always under the threat that at any time some politically expedient movement may impose arbitrary sanctions on your project.

    A thought experiment; almost every type that can be produced has been produced. Some successful some blind alleys, some ahead of their time others outright failures. There exists therefore, a large resource of existing types, fully certificated but considered obsolete for one reason or another, some rightfully so but some dubiously so. The declining marginal utility of a modern design over its predecessors prompts one to revisit some of these out of production types and consider if they might profitably be produced using modern manufacturing techniques, modest upgrades and with more efficient subsystems that are readily available. For ~1% of the cost (of a new type) you would get 95% of the utility in a fraction of the time (pay-back).

    Which types might be contenders for “re manufacture”? I’m sure we all have a few. Mine would be VC-10 Super 200, BAC Concorde and Vickers Vanguard each for differing reasons.

    As I say, just an enjoyable thought experiment.

    • The costs of certification are getting so high segments of the industry do seem to be stagnating but the safety achieved is certainly higher though it isn’t necessarily entirely due to regulations but often better technology such as more reliable engines or GPWS.

      One aspect is liability a manufacturer takes on should an aircraft it deigned and produced crashes and people die.

      The costs to Boeing of the two MCAS related B737 crashes in victim compensation are staggering alone yet on top of that are recovery costs etc.

      Then there is the chilling effect of loose talk of criminal prosecutions against staff, CEO, directors.

      Manufacturing of General and light aircraft in the US shut down completely due to liability issues that extended to 50 year old airframes for some time.

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