It seems that much discussion is still under way at Bombardier as to whether or not it should launch a stretched, 90-seat model of its Dash 8 Q400 Next Gen turboprop. Speaking during a pre-show media briefing in Toronto, home of the Canadian manufacturer’s turboprop airliner family, Philippe Poutissou, vice president marketing at Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said the company carried out extensive studies to investigate what potential customers might be looking for.
Bombardier’s arch rival in the turboprop regional market, Europe’s ATR, has been on a sales high in the last couple of years, albeit with just one family product line, and has been considering an all-new 90-seater. Bombardier has a broader commercial family in development, and production ranging from the CRJ regional jet family and the Q400, to the new CSeries airliner, to its expanding Global and Learjet business jet families. The company has, therefore, felt able to resist market pressure to press ahead and has taken the time to carry out significant market research while also waiting to see what course of action ATR might pursue.
Bombardier’s forecasts indicate a possible market for some 2,400 new deliveries in the combined turboprop sector over the next two decades. “[However], there are many questions to ask before making any decisions on this,” commented Poutissou. “We need to hear what [customers] most want to see, given that they want increased capacity. Will it come through a product featuring much new technology, or will maximum commonality with existing fleets be a priority?”
The Bombardier executive added that timing would also be an important factor. “There will be tradeoffs [but] a Q400X stretch to 90 seats would bring added productivity,“ he stated, “and the Next Gen does have seat-growth potential.”
He also pointed out that the 360-knot cruising speed of the aircraft and the new 2-plus-1 business class cabin layout–with large overhead bins–provided a similar flight experience to jets, including comparable point-to-point times on many services. The Q400 design could, he said, grow further if that was the way to go.
With potential re-engining options opening up (with suppliers such as General Electric and Pratt & Whitney Canada well on the way to offering optimized powerplant solutions), this possible future roadmap might be one reason why Bombardier is quietly confident that the Q400 Next Gen is currently on a roll, not experiencing just a temporary surge owing to the growing ATR backlog.
This year has brought in much-needed new orders and options, including sales of up to 45 from Canadian airline WestJet, and up to 20 for Eurolot in Poland, with more expected very soon. This renewed sense of confidence is reflected in the increasing pace of production at Toronto.