December 17, 2021, ©. Leeham News: As we wrap up the series where we look at the monumental work you have to do to get a new aircraft type certified, we will discuss how we need several aircraft variants, addressing different markets, if we shall survive as an aircraft manufacturer.
All successful aircraft manufacturers produce and market a family of aircraft. If you stay with only one variant, you will find it hard to keep good people as the development work ends.
As a new OEM, our focus has been to get our first aircraft out the door and to start getting money back into the company. Although it takes quite some time before we are cash positive on aircraft deliveries (Figure 2), we should have planned our future steps in development from the beginning of the project.
There are many reasons we need to produce and sell more than one aircraft variant:
So there are a number of reasons we need to develop variants of our base aircraft. If we manage to design a good, flexible base aircraft there is potential to develop the base design into many variants, over many years.
The record for variants of a commuter has perhaps the Beech Super King Air series, Figure 4.
The FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet, TCDS, is published in its 125th revision in September this year. Together with the original King Air (the non-T-tail variant) about 7,500 King Airs are built to date in over 40 variants.
A large reason for this type still being in production with about 50 deliveries per year is the installed base of over 7,000 aircraft worldwide and the support network this can allow.
An airliner’s job is to be in the air. It has to fly every day and if there is a problem in the jungle of Borneo, it shall be fixed with local knowledge fast.
Only a large family of aircraft can support such a support network. This is often forgotten when plans are made for a new aircraft OEM with its products.
It doesn’t matter if our product is x% better than the incumbent market leader such as the Super King Air. The operators go by what they can operate with the smallest possible headache. Their customers need them to fly the passengers or the goods when planned. If the aircraft is unserviceable, then the customer changes carriers pretty fast.
So what variants can we plan around as we develop our base aircraft? Our base aircraft is an unpressurized utility-oriented aircraft. Executives don’t like to fly in weather at 10,000ft (the maximum altitude without passengers wearing an oxygen mask in an unpressurized aircraft) so an executive version is probably not smart.
On the other hand, different utility versions like a dedicated freighter with a big cargo door, a military version of this freighter as a combined transport and freighter variant, a medivac version or Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) version are all variants that can clinch niche markets, where volumes are low but margins are healthy.
There is often the possibility to stretch the aircraft, but with our aircraft placed at 19 seats, the next natural size is 39 to 48 seats and this is a too large stretch. It requires a total redesign to compete with the incumbent 39 to 48 seaters.
Depending on the development of low emission propulsion systems and investor interest or government grants for sustainability projects we might want to develop a more sustainable variant of the aircraft. How this can look will be part of a new Corner series on the New Year.
As we wind down this rather unique series, I would like to thank the two industry experts that helped me with knowledge and ideas, without whom this series hadn’t been possible.
I had the pleasure with work with Henry Tam, who was Head of Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet 100 program, now a fellow Mentor at Sustainable Aero Lab, and Andrew Telesca, who Headed Mitsubishi’s Certification Management Office, now at MagniX.