Daher-Socata’s target of formally launching a new eight- to 10-seat or equivalent weight twin-engine business airplane sometime next year is still planned, but it depends on the company continuing to seek investment partners to fund the NTx New Twin program, unveiled at last year’s NBAA Convention. The program was expected to launch late this year, but has already slipped with the question of whether the aircraft will be a bigger and faster version of the six-seat single-engine TBM 850 turboprop or a turbofan.
Despite the financial crisis, the company (Booth No. 1065) is proceeding with the estimated $365 million (?250 million) NTx development program. The projected next-generation airplane will have a greater useful load, more payload capability and a larger cabin than the $3 million TBM 850. It is also expected to offer a larger scope of multi-role applications, including possible replacements for customs-service aircraft.
According to senior vice president of general aviation Nicolas Chabbert, the company is continuing its internal review to evaluate whether or not to go ahead. He told NBAA Convention News there is a strong feeling there is a market for the new airplane. “We said from the outset we would go ahead on the basis of a business plan, a clearer view of the market, consideration of the powerplant and assurance of the necessary investment for the project. We are evaluating our project and market reaction but this is taking longer than anticipated due to the changed dynamics as a consequence of the financial crisis.”
In February, French aerostructures specialist Daher, which reported 2008 revenues of $890 million (?609 million), concluded the purchase of a 70-percent stake in southwest France-based Socata from its parent group EADS. Daher’s intentions were to become a major aerospace player by pressing ahead with the launch of the dual-engine business airplane planned by Socata and by continuing to develop its aerospace capability, which includes composite structures, fluid distribution and cabin insulation products. Its major clients are Airbus, including on the A350 XWB, and Eurocopter.
The NTx is expected to make considerable use of composite materials, and while marketing for the NTx is under way, Chabbert confirmed that the powerplant applications still under discussion include analysis of turboprops and turbofans. Pratt & Whitney Canada, which builds the PT6A-66D turboprop engine that powers the TBM 850 and also manufactures turbofan powerplants, would be one of the obvious partners.
Chabbert said Daher would not undertake the twin-engine NTx program alone but would be its majority contributor. “It is too early to say but the final choice of aircraft will depend on the main financial and/or industrial partners, which would not necessarily be only European. It is likely that U.S. suppliers would be involved.”
Last year, Socata delivered a record 60 TBM 850s–up from 46 in 2007–lifting it into profit after four years in the doldrums. The aircraft is equipped with a Garmin G1000 integrated flight instrument system, especially tailored for it. Garmin’s synthetic-vision technology has been available on new or already delivered G1000-equipped TBM 850s since last April.
About 70 percent of TBM sales are to the U.S., 20 percent to Europe and 10 percent to South America and the Asia/ Pacific region, Chabbert said. The company plans to deliver about 40 TBM 850s this year.
Socata, which this year launched a co-ownership program to encourage sales, has suffered some last-minute deferrals, but no orders have been cancelled and several TBM 850s remain with distributors, he added. Production rhythms have slowed to just below four per month, but there have been no layoffs or reduced working time among full-time employees.