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Bombardier considers stretch variant for Q400

 - June 8, 2009, 5:09 AM
Bombardier Aerospace is continuing to define a further stretch of its 78-passenger Dash 8 Q-400 regional turboprop to create a possible 90-seat variant that could enter service before the middle of the next decade. The Canadian manufacturer has been studying such a development– dubbed the Dash 8 Q400X–for several years, citing the airframe’s potential to accept 58-inch forward and 62-inch aft fuselage “plugs” to accommodate three or four extra rows of seats.

Just a few months ago, Bombardier confirmed that 2013-14 is its latest thinking for service entry. “[That is] the sort of time period we’re looking at today,” said Bombardier commercial aircraft president Gary Scott at an industry conference in March.

With such a date in mind, the manufacturer is now mulling the precise capacity required by regional airlines. Adamant that Bombardier will go through with the development, Scott indicated that current plans envision a stretch that would create capacity for between 90 and 100 seats.

 While Scott has “no doubt we’ll do a large [Dash 8] Q400,” he said Bombardier will “continue to refine our view with customers over the next couple of years. We’re looking at how big–90 or 100 seats.” Earlier this year, UK regional operator and the largest Q400 customer FlyBe publicly called for a larger variant.

Bombardier’s most recent market forecast predicts requirements for some 2,300 turboprops in the next 20 years, with demand being greatest for both jets and turboprops with more than 60 seats. It does not specify how many aircraft with between 80 and 100 seats are required. The company’s planned new C Series jetliner is offered with 100-plus seats.

Pratt Is Onboard
The airframer is supported by engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC), which expects turboprop demand to remain high through the recession. P&WC sees further development potential in its 5,000-shp PW150, which powers the current largest Dash 8Q and has said it could produce a more powerful derivative. This size of engine has represented an increasing slice of business for P&WC in the past several years and the company believes the market will grow.

In considering how best to proceed with continued development of a turboprop product alongside the geared turbofan-powered C Series, Bombardier remains head-to-head with European manufacturer Avions de Transport Regional. Both companies are confident of a market for future regional turboprops while fuel prices remain relatively high and some airports continue to ban regional jets or at least limit access to them. The Franco-Italian company is considering a “clean-sheet” design for a new regional turboprop for service entry in the middle of the next decade.

According to marketing and airline analysis vice president Barry MacKinnon, Bombardier would be able to bring another Dash 8 derivative to market ahead of any new 90-seat ATR design. Confirming late last year that such a stretch remains “a study,” he also reported “considerable” airline interest.

Providing a longer cabin to the Dash 8Q by introducing fuselage “plugs” is seen by Bombardier as “fairly straightforward” development. MacKinnon also sees the PW150’s potential to produce sufficient power.

While MacKinnon acknowledged that a stretch may not offer the improvement in operating economics a clean-sheet aircraft will provide, he said Bombardier will be able to bring to market a 90-seater within a much shorter time frame. Originally, when first acknowledging thoughts of a longer variant, Bombardier had envisioned such a development becoming available before 2012.

Dash 8 Q400X studies are understood to have covered one or two 1,000-nm-range variants with up to 90-seat capacity, as well as a possible reduced-length 56- to 58-passenger model. Bombardier believes the basic structure will “take all the seats available.”

The -400X is expected to sport 31-inch seat pitch, increased baggage capacity, enhanced interior, stronger main landing gear (with carbon brakes and larger tires), and strengthened propellers to absorb increased power.