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Where things stand on 90-seat turboprop

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Bombardier backs away but ATR tries to convince shareholders to approve large turboprop.

I’ve written some here recently about the 90-seat turboprop, a concept about which there has been much speculation in recent years. I noted that talk of the large turboprop was muted at the Regional Airline Association (RAA) convention in Montreal in May, indicating that neither Bombardier nor ATR were looking to take the jump and launch a large turboprop soon. But coming off the Paris Air Show last week, I believe the issue is more complicated than that.

Bombardier, it is clear, is not interested at all right now. But ATR, especially CEO Filippo Bagnato, would actually like to move forward with the large turboprop concept. However, the Toulouse-based 50:50 joint venture’s shareholders (EADS and Alenia Aermacchi of the Finmeccanica group) are not yet convinced.

Bagnato told reporters in Paris that he’d like to bring a 90-seat turboprop to market in the 2018/2019 timeframe. He emphasized the large turboprop would not be a stretch version of the ATR 72-600. “It will be a new airplane with new engines, new systems, everything,” he said, noting ATR has “finished the initial specs of the airplane and have verified with our major suppliers the overall design of the aircraft.” He is publicly urging EADS and Alenia Aermacchi to clear the concept and allow a program launch, but it is uncertain when this might happen.

Why a 90-seat turboprop? “The answer is easy,” Bagnato said. “The cost of fuel and the cost of maintenance are the key drivers of airlines’ costs ... In order to break even, they need to fly the regional routes with a larger aircraft.”

Bombardier, on the other hand, has completely backed away from the idea for now. I’ve pointed out before that in 2009 Gary Scott, then president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said his company intended to move forward with a stretch version of the 70-seat Q400 with first delivery likely, well, this year or 2014. But the current president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, Mike Arcamone, told me in a conversation on the eve of the air show that airlines are not asking for a large turboprop.

“Of course, if there’s a huge demand from our customer base, we will give it serious study,” he said. “But right now our [Q400] seating capacity and configuration can really meet all the demand our customer base from across the world is asking for.”

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