EADS Socata is confident that it has the answer to the challenge of the very light jet (VLJ) threat in its latest single turboprop, the six-seat TBM 850. As of the end of April, the new model had clinched 36 firm orders compared to 31 sales of the previous TBM 700C2 version during 2005.
Socata chairman Stéphane Mayer told EBACE Convention News that the turboprop market has been lifted by the continuing rise in the price of oil. “The new aircraft will give the single-engine turboprop market a further boost,” he said. “The 850’s updated Pratt & Whitney Canada engine gives it the speed of a light jet with the more economic operating costs of a turboprop, making it even more attractive to our clients, over 70 percent of whom are U.S.-based.”
Mayer said that although the TBM 700 was the fastest aircraft in its category, Socata owner-pilots wanted an even faster airplane. “They are attracted by the VLJ’s higher speed but do not like the 50 percent higher operating costs and more expensive insurance premiums, and do not need transition training to operate the 850.”
The French manufacturer relied on input from dozens of private owner flyers and distributors in developing the new version. The message was clear: they all wanted speed, more speed and even more speed. And the answer to these demands was a new engine.
So Socata has replaced the TBM 700’s PT6A-64 powerplant with the PT6A-66D, a new version of the PT6 series developed by Pratt & Whitney Canada to the airframe manufacturer’s specifications. The engine has exactly the same physical envelope and weight as the -64. New features include a hike in shaft power to 850 hp, and an increase in thermodynamic power from 1,580 to 1,825 hp, enabling the 850 to fly 22 to 56 ktas faster than the TBM 700.
The 850’s maximum cruising speed of 320 ktas at Flight Level 260 is a 26-ktas improvement on the latest 700 model, the C2. Cruise performance shows an increase of 21 to 33 ktas depending on altitude. Climb time to high cruise altitudes is reduced by 25 percent, reaching 31,000 feet in 20 minutes, where before it would get to only 28,000 feet.
European certification for the TBM 850 was achieved on Nov. 28, 2005, followed by U.S. approval on January 23 this year. According to Mayer, Socata will produce a maximum 42 units of the $2.64 million aircraft ($2.79 million fully equipped) this year, rising to 60 per year from 2008.
But he added that there has been no further progress on European authorities lifting the ban on single engine commercial IFR operations–despite years of debate and stubborn resistance from officials in countries like the UK. In Mayer’s view, there will be no progress on this front until a decision can be made by the European Aviation Safety Agency and this will likely take at least until 2008. “There is no consensus and we cannot go to each of the European Union’s 25 member countries to convince them. It’s a shame,” he commented.