This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The economic shockwaves from the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted airlines to consider the prospect of operating turboprop aircraft through new eyes. Deutsche Aircraft maintains that an urgent need for carriers to recalibrate yield calculations as traffic levels slowly recover provides a strong springboard for its plans to step up the development of an updated version of the Dornier 328 regional turboprop.
During the first half of 2021, the German company intends to introduce new branding around the new D328eco that will deliver a two-meter stretch to the fuselage to accommodate up to 43 passengers and new Pratt & Whitney PW127S engines that can run on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). From its headquarters at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, the Deutsche Aircraft engineering team is aiming to complete its preliminary design review in September 2021, by which point it also expects to have named key suppliers for the program.
Deutsche Aircraft said it will work with Pratt & Whitney to produce a "qualification road map" covering the transition towards an increasing proportion of SAF. Eventually, the aircraft will be able to run on 100 percent SAF without a need to change the wing design or the production process since the airframe is being designed for this progression from the outset.
Also on the horizon are plans to build a final assembly facility for the D328eco at Leipzig in eastern Germany. The company has secured land for this plant and it will be ready for the production phase, which is due to start in 2025 after the new model receives an EASA type certificate. Flight testing will be conducted at Oberpfaffenhofen, where there are a number of complete examples of the Do-328.
According to Deutsche Aircraft Dave Jackson, the D328eco program bears a low technology risk because the reworked design is based on the existing type certificate for the former Dornier company’s last variant of the 328 family, which was the 328Jet. “It’s a bit like what Airbus did with the A320neo, in that we’re adding a new engine, as well as updating the avionics and the landing gear,” he told AIN. Earlier versions of what was the Do-328 twin-turboprop are powered by PW100-series turboprop engines.
Deutsche Aircraft will also update the flight deck, in part to prepare for a possible transition to single-pilot operations. It expects to name the program’s avionics supplier in the first half of 2021.
The new PW127S powerplant will be able to burn SAF or jet-A to ensure operational flexibility while the infrastructure and supporting regulation for the new fuel are put in place. Deutsche Aircraft has formed an advisory board of prospective airline customers from around the world to discuss specifications and operational considerations for the new aircraft.
According to Deutsche Aircraft, the aircraft is projected to deliver economical specific fuel consumption of 2.6 liters per 100 km per passenger. It will also be able to operate from just 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of runway at a top speed of 324 ktas and at altitudes of up to 30,000 feet.
Deutsche Aircraft has not yet published range projections for the D328eco. The company indicated that it will be able to operate on much the same sector-lengths as those flown by the original Dornier 328 in regional airline service.
The D328eco’s fuselage will feature new composite materials. The aircraft will be built using the latest REACH requirements for environmental sustainability covering all materials and manufacturing processes. As part of this commitment, the new Leipzig factory will operate to the latest Industry 4.0 methods and be entirely paperless.
“We expect to see a quantum leap in business travelers and consumers who will start to look hard at the green credentials of the aircraft they fly in,” Jackson said. “There are hundreds of aircraft in the 30- to 40-seat class and we see a strong replacement market opportunity.”
More broadly, Jackson said that there are around 3,800 aging regional airliners in the sub-50-seat class and many of these types are no longer in production. “The business case for this new aircraft remains strong and it may be that the long-term impact of the current pandemic is that it could result in market conditions that support smaller aircraft flying longer sectors,” he concluded. “We believe the short-haul market will be the first to recover.”
Deutsche Aircraft was formed from 328 Support Services, the German company that holds the type certificate for the original Dornier Do-328. This is a subsidiary of U.S.-based aircraft support group Sierra Nevada Corp., which acquired the venture in 2015.