Denel Launches Regional Airliner Project

 - September 23, 2014, 10:53 AM
Ismail Dockrat (right), CEO of Denel Aerostructures, and other company officials look on at the unveiling of the Sara project. (Photo: David Donald)

South Africa’s Denel has unveiled plans to design and build a new 15- to 24-seat commercial turboprop aircraft called the Sara. Unveiled at September’s African Aerospace and Defense show, held at Waterkloof AFB near Pretoria, the project traces its roots to studies conducted around two years ago, after the major defense contractor and MRO organization identified a need to increase investment in high-technology programs to develop a new generation of aerospace engineers and capabilities.

To that end the Sara conforms to South Africa’s National Development Plan, and Denel already works with a range of government agencies and academic institutions. The company stresses that it is a collaborative Denel-led project, rather than purely a company venture.

Denel’s studies led it to the low-density, short-sector, point-to-point market, which the company identified as a niche underserved by a modern high-performance aircraft. The niche has obvious applications in Africa, where most regions have scant and poor road and rail infrastructure.

The Sara is a streamlined twin turboprop with a high wing that does not intrude on the cabin. The “widebody” fuselage has a broad cross-section to allow for two-by-two, four-abreast seating. The shape also encourages natural laminar flow around the airframe, improving its efficiency. In addition to a passenger-carrying role, Denel envisions the Sara as a freighter and has designed the cabin to accommodate three LD2 pallets. An alternative Combi version could carry one LD2 pallet and 12 passengers. Denel also suggests that it could have defense and civil security special-mission applications.

The design calls for a maximum takeoff weight of some 18,500 pounds and a range of about 1,500 nm. Unlike many aircraft in its class, the Sara will feature a pressurized cabin, allowing it to operate at up to 40,000 feet, clear of the weather frequently encountered in Africa. The company has yet to specify an engine, but AIN understands that a variant of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A will most likely power the Sara.

Lifting the lid on the project signals the start of an 18-month feasibility study. Full development would require additional investment, and Denel hopes to secure the needed capital before the end of the study. It expects development to take between five and seven years, leading to a service entry around 2020/21.