Turboprop manufacturing: reports of death exaggerated March 2000
The signs for manufacturers of turboprop aircraft are perhaps not as catastrophic as some commentators would have us believe. Admittedly, in 1999 orders were placed for 462 regional jets (see Aviation Strategy, February 2000), while the manufacturers of turboprop aircraft could muster just 169 aircraft sales. But there are significant niches for turboprops, and the ruthless rationalisation of the industry means that the surviving manufacturers have a better chance of achieving viability or even profitability.
British Aerospace ceased production of the Jetstream 41 in 1997, and the last ATP was delivered at the end of 1998. Production of Fokker aircraft ended in 1997. The final Saab 2000 aircraft was delivered in the summer of 1999.
Just as the large jet market can only support two players — Boeing and Airbus — and the regional jet market three players — Bombardier, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier — the 35–seat–plus turboprop market is now dominated by two players — ATR and Bombardier. (Although CASA recorded 19 sales in 1999, 16 of these were to Merpati, its tame customer in Indonesia.)
It would also be wrong to suggest that turboprops now only sell in less sophisticated markets, the list of European and US airline orders putting the lie to this. Roughly 30% of the turboprops sold in 1999 went to European carriers and a further 30% to North American airlines.
SAS is one airline that may point the way ahead. It has 22 firm orders for Bombardier’s 70-seat Q400, which it will use in its SAS Commuter fleet to serve thin short–haul routes. It is also asking manufacturers to provide offers for 20 70–90 seat regional jets, indicating that there are separate niches for both types of aircraft.
A major problem for all turboprop manufacturers is the second–hand market. As airlines shift from mainline turboprops to regional jets, the second- hand market is being flooded with cheap and unwanted turboprops. This is undermining the pricing of new aircraft.
ATR and Bombardier are officially optimistic about their turboprop prospects. But, while Bombardier can fall back on its regional jet programme if sales of turboprops do dry up, ATR does not have the same option. This explains the rumours abound that a formal ATR tie–up with Embraer is on the cards, given ATRs parent, Aerospatiale Matra, already has a shareholding in the Brazilian manufacturer. Specific plans from the manufacturers are summarised below.
Some 37 ATR42 and ATR72 aircraft were delivered in 1999, which. although respectable, is a far cry from the early 1990s when annual deliveries topped 60 aircraft. With 36 new orders placed for both types in 1999 ATR has at least been able to meet its quota target. ATR has forecast that it will build on average some 30 ATR42/72 aircraft a year in this decade, which, it says, is a level where it can show a profit. Nevertheless, the order backlog remains very thin with just six ATR42 aircraft and 14 ATR72s outstanding.
The Canadian manufacturer has the largest product range in the class. The Q200 is a 37–39 seater, the Q300 a 50–56 seater and he latest version, the Q400 is a 68–78 seater. The Q400 received its US certification in February 2000 and has since been introduced into revenue service by European launch customer SAS Commuter which has in total 22 firm orders for the type. Bombardier enjoys a healthy backlog for its turboprops, 84 aircraft, with the Q400 accounting for 61 of these.
The latest version from the Spanish/Indonesian joint venture, the CN235–300 received type certification in July 1998. Without the backing of the Indonesian domestic carrier, Merpati, and defence orders the future of this programme would be in doubt.
Production continues of the EMB–120 Brasilia aircraft at Sao Jose although in very small numbers, some 12 aircraft only in 1999. With no recorded new sales in 1999, this production rate is unlikely to increase this year. Despite this, and the manufacturers success in the regional jet market, Embraer is considering other developments of the existing EMB–120ER model including an all–cargo version and a combi.
Despite the successful launch of its jet products — the 328Jet, 428Jet and 728Jet — the manufacturer continues to produce the 19 seat Do–228 and the 32 seat Do–328 turboprop. However with only 11 new sales between both types in 1999 how much longer Fairchild will continue producing the type is open to question. The Metro 23 continues to be built, and has proved successful with the integrators in the form of the Expediter cargo version, but worryingly no new orders for the type were recorded during 1999.
The Czech–based manufacturer, now owned by Ayres Corporation of the US, is seeking to gain certification later this year for its 40 seat L–610G turboprop aircraft. Whether the aircraft will be able to attract any orders is another matter as it is pitched in the middle of the ground currently dominated by the regional jets. Ayres can at least be comforted by the fact that its other major aircraft type, the LM200 Loadmaster, received a further 25 firm orders from FedEx in 1999, bringing the total ordered to 75 aircraft plus 175 options.
The Beech 1900D, which entered service in 1991, is one of the few 19 seat turboprops still in production. In 1999, some 50 of the type were delivered and the company forecasts that it will produce roughly three aircraft a month this year. The company predicts that the annual demand for 19–seaters will be around 35–50 aircraft a year for the next ten years.
|Beech||Emb||ATR||ATR||CN-235||Metro||Do-||Do-||Dash 8||Dash 8||Dash 8||Total|
|Capitaneria di Porto||1||1|
|Federico II Airways||1||1|
|N. American total||17||0||2||0||0||0||0||6||9||0||15||49|
|Air Marshall Islands||2||2|