Daher-Socata mulls NTx powerplant decision

 - May 6, 2009, 8:18 AM

Daher, the French family-run firm that now owns Socata, is pressing ahead with investments to ensure the maker of the TBM 850 single turboprop is well-placed when the business aviation market emerges from the current financial crisis–a recovery it believes could be 12 to 18 months away.

The manufacturer, which trades under the name Daher-Socata, will invest almost $330 million to develop an eight- to 10-seat twin-engine aircraft to offer in the market segment above the TBM 850. The so-called NTx program was launched at the 2008 NBAA convention, but Daher-Socata still has not decided whether its powerplant would be a turboprop or jet. It will certainly offer more payload than the TBM 850 and will be suitable for more varied applications, including government special missions.

The final choice on the NTx engine will depend on who the concern (Booth No. 339) selects as the aircraft’s main financial and/or industrial partner, and that may not be a European company. President and CEO Patrick Daher said the choice of powerplant is still under discussion even though the company has started marketing efforts for the new aircraft. A full industrial launch is expected at the end of this year or early in 2010. Pratt & Whitney Canada, which supplies the TBM 850’s PT-66D turboprop engine, is likely to be in contention to join the new program.

Daher has been on the sidelines of major aerospace programs but its priority this year is to expand its business as a full-fledged aircraft manufacturer. At the end of 2008 it took a 70-percent stake in Socata after EADS chief executive Louis Gallois decided that the group was unable to develop its aircraft manufacturing and aerostructures businesses without enlisting outside support. EADS retains a 30-percent stake. Socata’s wider aerospace activity includes making composite structures, and fluid distribution and cabin insulation products for commercial and business aircraft, as well as for civil and military helicopters.

Garmin Upgrades for TBM 850 Cockpit

Last month, Socata announced that Garmin’s synthetic-vision technology (SVT) is available on all TBM 850s–both as retrofits and on new aircraft–that feature the G1000 avionics suite. The new synthetic-vision application has received full certification from both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

SVT presents a 3-D depiction of terrain, obstacles and traffic on the G1000’s two 10-inch-wide primary flight displays (PFDs), replicating what pilots would see outside the cockpit on a clear day. The technology blends information about the aircraft’s position with topographic databases to create and display real-time 3-D images so the pilot maintains excellent airborne situational awareness even when flying in darkness or reduced-visibility conditions, yielding a reduced pilot workload and safer flying.

The information is presented on the G1000’s large flight displays with XGA (1,024 by 768 pixels) resolution. Land, water and sky are clearly differentiated with shading and textures that are similar to the topographical colors found on the 15-inch multifunction display, the largest on a light business aircraft. Two RVSM-compliant air data calculators and two attitude and heading reference systems replace the traditional gyro-based instruments that are complemented by a magnetic sensor and completed by the GMC 710 digital autopilot.

Socata’s order book in 2008 lifted it into profit after four years in the doldrums, with 201 TBM 850 sales booked since its December 2005 launch as the successor to Socata’s TBM 700. The 850 features an all-glass flight deck that is similar to that of the Cessna Citation Mustang. It replaces traditional instruments with large liquid-crystal display screens while also integrating primary flight information, navigation, weather, traffic and ground proximity functions.

A total of 53 TBM 850s are earmarked for delivery this year, down from an original forecast of 69 that would have beaten the record 60 delivered in 2008. A Daher-Socata spokesman told EBACE Convention News that seven turboprops were delivered in the first quarter of this year, down from an expected 14. He said this was the result of last-minute deferrals, but he stressed that no orders have been cancelled and that several TBMs remain with distributors.

Production rates have slowed to four aircraft per month but there have been no layoffs or reduced working time among full-time employees. About 70 percent of sales go to the U.S., 20 percent to Europe, and 10 percent to South America and the Asia/Pacific region.