While Ibis Aerospace officials have been cheering publicly for months that the Ae270 Spirit turboprop single is nearing FAA and EASA approval, their mood behind closed doors was likely more muted. This is because the Ae270, until recently expected to be certified late this or early next year, is not meeting performance guarantees and won’t enter production in its current form, a U.S. spokesman told AIN last month. Guaranteed performance for the Ae270 includes a high-speed cruise of 270 knots at 25,000 feet, 66-knot stall speed (full flaps) and 1,338-nm NBAA IFR range.
Worse, Prague, Czech Republic-based Ibis has not yet secured the financing to redesign, build and certify a new version of the Ae270.
“Right now, we’re discussing performance parameters for the Ae270,” the spokesman said. “We will have to redesign the airplane to meet our performance guarantees, which will likely require a totally new wing.” Dubbed the Ae270B, the reworked turboprop single will have a larger, lighter wing that is easier to manufacture. In addition, the spokesman said, the new wing would retain the same planform but would be “longer and deeper,” with repositioned flaps and ailerons to enable more range and improve stall characteristics.
In fact, the FAA has questioned Ibis about some of the Ae270’s stall sequences during the certification review. The agency recently required the manufacturer to demonstrate again some of the turboprop single’s stall-speed regimes, the spokesman said, and this has lengthened the certification process.
The company has not determined how long it will take to redesign, build and flight test a new wing, but the spokesman said that it would “certainly be more than a year-and-a-half,” so the Ae270B could not be certified before mid-2007 at the earliest. However, lack of financing could extend the timeline further, though the spokesman is confident that Ibis joint-venture partners Aero Vodochody and AIDC will soon come through with additional funding.
This isn’t the first time the Ae270 design has changed. Under development since 1989 and announced by Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic as the L-270 in 1990, the Ae270 was originally envisioned as a medium-range utility airplane in two versions: a Czech variant powered by a Walter M601E turboprop and a Western variant powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42.
First flight of the Czech version was planned for 1993, but development slowed due to lack of funds. In 1997 Aero Vodochody and AIDC of Taiwan created Ibis Aerospace as a 50-50 joint venture to develop, manufacture and market the Ae270.
The first Ae270, powered by a PT6A-42, flew in July 2000, and the company expected certification in July 2001. In October 2000, Ibis introduced a third, high-performance version of the model, dubbed the Ae270HP, to be powered by a PT6-66A. Not long after, Ibis decided to focus solely on that model. Now the latest iteration will be the Ae270B Spirit.
A typically equipped executive Ae270 with weather radar and air conditioning has thus far carried a price tag of about $2.5 million. Ibis expects the follow-on Ae270B to be in the same price range.
The good news, the spokesman said, is that Ibis’ distributors have converted all of their orders for Ae270s to Ae270Bs, so the company maintains its backlog for 79 aircraft. However, these orders hinge on the Ae270B meeting its performance guarantees.