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Bombardier to Approve Ethiopian Airlines as Q400 Maintenance Provider

posted Jul 11, 2013, 1:57 AM by Michael Adams

Bombardier on Wednesday signed a letter of intent to authorize Ethiopian Airlines as an authorized service facility (ASF) for its Q400 and Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft.

 

The national Ethiopian carrier operates a fleet of 13 Q400 and Q400 NextGen aircraft along with its affiliate, ASKY Airlines of Togo. The announcement follows Bombardier's recent establishment of a full service regional support office at Lanseria Airport in South Africa, which it says will "complement" the airline's maintenance services.

 

“We are enthusiastic about the many new opportunities for commercial aviation in Africa and, through sustained investment and focus, we are expanding our support services on the continent at an accelerated pace," said Eric Martel, president of specialized and amphibious aircraft at Bombardier.

 

The maintenance authorization is expected to be finalized in late August.

ATR Extends Market Leadership And Pushes For New Product

posted Jul 8, 2013, 11:49 PM by Michael Adams

Turboprop manufacturer ATR has rebounded remarkably after its near-demise more than a decade ago. Now it is keen to take the next step and build a 90-seat turboprop aircraft, but one of its shareholders is balking.

Launching the proposed 90-seater is of “fundamental importance” to ATR, CEO Filippo Bagnato says. “We have been able to sell more than 300 aircraft since the launch of the [upgraded ATR 42 and 72] -600 versions. The market pays attention to manufacturers that renew their aircraft.”

Technical details and a business plan for the 90-seat turboprop were developed and submitted to ATR shareholders Finmeccanica and EADS (50/50 stakeholders in the joint venture) at the end of last year. Now ATR is waiting for approval of what it estimates to be a $2 billion project. Finmeccanica is in favor of ATR's plans, in spite of its own woes. “If EADS is not interested in developing the aircraft with us, we will find alternatives,” Guiseppe Giordo, CEO of Finmeccanica's civil aircraft subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi, says. “There is a huge market potential for a turboprop larger than the ATR 72.”

It is not that EADS doubts the market potential for such an aircraft or has reservations about it competing against existing aircraft in its portfolio. But even if the financing seems feasible, engineering resources could cause a problem. Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier has made clear internally that he cannot devote hundreds of aerospace engineers to the regional affiliate at this time.

Because it has not developed a totally new aircraft in almost 30 years, ATR would have to rely on external engineering resources to a large extent for what would likely be a multi-year development cycle. External in this case means drawing on Airbus and Alenia engineering know-how.

And that is where things become difficult: Airbus does not want to be distracted from its higher-strategic-value projects, namely the stretched A350-1000 and the A320NEO. These aircraft are arguably derivatives of platforms that already exist. But in light of a painful experience, Bregier has followed a culture of caution at Airbus that emphasizes fully clearing one set of milestones before tackling the next. This was the approach of his predecessor, Tom Enders, who postponed the launch of the NEO until he was sure Airbus would have enough engineers to deal with the work. He agreed to launch the aircraft only after he was convinced this was so.

However, EADS's official position does not sound totally negative. “Airbus is, together with its partners, studying the developments in the regional market,” says Kiran Rao, ATR chairman and Airbus executive vice president of strategy and marketing. “The most likely outcome will be a new generation of turboprops with increased size, greater comfort and significant improvement in efficiency.”

However, Giordo has made clear that Alenia and Finmeccanica do not want to waste too much time waiting for Airbus and EADS to move. He is pushing for a decision to go ahead with the project by the end of the year.

The turboprop manufacturer argues there is a market of up to 1,300 units for the proposed aircraft. The demand will partly come from airlines eliminating some jets from their fleets in favor of turboprops, ATR believes. “The jet manufacturers are moving toward 100 seats. To break even, they need to fly in regional markets with larger aircraft.” That could open up a niche that can be filled with a newly designed turboprop. Bagnato also believes that its existing customers will switch to bigger aircraft.

Unlike ATR, Bombardier has no plans for a turboprop larger than its Q400. It notes its customers have not indicated interest in a larger version.

But as always, the two turboprop rivals' positions have to be weighed. Bombardier is struggling to keep its new large CSeries jet on track. It has just pushed out first flight by another month—until the end of July—and the relatively small company cannot afford any major program delays; these have caused fiscal pain to other manufacturers. It can also not afford to run another multibillion-dollar development program concurrently. The Canada-based manufacturer is struggling to sell its Q400. The backlog is a mere 48 aircraft.

ATR, by contrast, sees a key strategic advantage in launching a new turboprop. Not only would it provide customers the opportunity for more capacity at low unit costs, it would also gel the manufacturer's competitive position as the dominant builder of regional 50-90-seat turboprops. A broadened ATR portfolio, and what would likely be a much-lower-unit-cost larger turboprop, would make it even tougher for Bombardier to sell the Q400 in significant quantities.

The ranks of ATR's competition have swelled, though. China has proposed to build an aircraft of similar size in the next five years and South Korea has hinted about building a new turboprop, too. From a strategy and commercial point of view, ATR would be wise to be able to offer its product ahead of the new competitors'.

As for the incumbents—Boeing and Airbus—although the behemoth manufacturers would never openly admit it, the launch of Bombardier's CSeries with Lufthansa played a role in the decision to launch the 737 MAX and the NEO. Their market success seems to demonstrate that timing is not always crucial (the CSeries is planned to enter service next year, NEO is due in late 2015, and MAX is slated for 2017).

While ATR has briefed its shareholders about the proposed aircraft, little is publicly known. The 90-seater is understood to be a new aircraft, not a derivative of the -72. It is to be equipped with new engines, avionics and wings. And while it is reported to be a little faster than the current ATR models, the company does not want to compromise efficiency for speed, which is one of the problems Bombardier is facing with its much faster Q400.

ATR recorded 173 orders and commitments so far this year, 83 of which are firm. A big part of the airframer's success is due to the fact that it made inroads in the leasing market. Nordic Aviation Capital placed orders for up to 91 aircraft (36 firm) and Air Lease Corp. bought five ATR 72-600s at last month's Paris air show.

The manufacturer's firm backlog now stands at 270 aircraft, significantly more than the 223 units recorded two years ago. As sales increase, so does market coverage. Danish regional operator Jettime will fly an initial fleet of six aircraft in Sweden, a country where ATRs have so far not been operated. Last month, Avianca took delivery of its first ATR 72 and the airframer is following up with more support infrastructure in Latin America. ATR is opening a training center in Bogota, Colombia, in cooperation with Avianca.

The focus on Latin America is underlined by the decision to move the North American activities to Miami “to be closer to our Latin American customers,” as Bagnato explains.

The ATR fleet in the Asia-Pacific area has doubled since 2005 and is expected to triple by 2016. The manufacturer claims a market share, as measured in new sales, of 66%

Bombardier Delays CSeries Maiden Flight to July

posted Jun 26, 2013, 11:21 PM by Michael Adams

The company has not committed to a specific date, though it has completed ground vibration tests, as well as software upgrades and corresponding tests for Flight Test Vehicle 1 (FTV1), the first CSeries aircraft. Transport Canada has also received the application for the FTV1 flight testing permit.

 

"In order to enhance the effectiveness of the flight program, Bombardier extended the timeline slightly to allow for additional software upgrades for improved system maturity and functionality," Bombardier said in a statement.

 

The CSeries is Bombardier's first full-size commercial aircraft family, with capacity for up to 149 passengers.

Bombardier foresees success for CS100 in Africa

posted Jun 6, 2013, 1:27 AM by Michael Adams

Bombardier expects a "strong uptake" in CSeries orders in Africa, as it expects a doubling of its fleet in the continent over the next three to five years.

Some 60 operators are flying about 200 Bombardier aircraft in Africa and that number will double in that timeframe, says Bombardier's senior vice president, sales for commercial aircraft, Chet Fuller.

This number is expected to double again in a shorter period, perhaps two to three years, or two to four years, he adds.

The airframer predicts "really good growth" for the Q400 turboprop and "modest growth" in the number of CRJs being operated in Africa. In addition, it also expects a "really strong uptake" in CS100 orders, says Fuller.

"That's the aircraft that will really open up some brand new markets that were not available before," he adds, pointing to the CS100's range and capabilities to operate at hot and high airports, as well as short runways.

"We are really bullish on the CS100 in Africa," says Fuller. While the airframer has not won an African customer for the CS100, Fuller says Bombardier is in talks with prospective customers and could conclude a sale "soon".

A CS100 could be flying in Africa as early as 2015, if African airlines choose to take aircraft from a lessor, says Fuller. Irish lessor Lease Corporation International has a firm order for three CS100s and 17 CS300s, while Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance is awaiting shareholder approval of its commitment to buy up to 42 CS300s. Braathens Leasing has a firm order for five CS100s and five CS300s, but these aircraft will be operated by Swedish carrier Malmo Aviation

FAA certifies ATR 42- and 72-600 aircraft

posted Apr 30, 2013, 10:09 PM by Michael Adams

ATR has received FAA certification for its 42- and 72-600 aircraft.

ATR CEO Filippo Bagnato said, “Obtaining this new certification will allow us to expand the commercial and operational scope of our family of aircraft” and “open doors for us in high-potential markets, to replace turboprop aircraft from previous generations as well as jets, which are less and less cost-effective.”

In 2011, the ATR 72-600  received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification and the ATR 42-600 received EASA certification in 2012.

ATR said, “All of the tests done by EASA, supplemented by the flights conducted by the FAA test pilots, were used to validate proper operation of the new systems and equipment installed onboard the aircraft, notably its new avionics suite: a new ‘glass cockpit’ with five LCD screens, as well as new communication, navigation and monitoring systems, flight management system, automatic pilot, alert management and multi-purpose computer, which integrates aircraft maintenance and protection functions in particular.”

Since the 42- and 72-600 program was launched in October 2007, ATR said it has received orders for more than 300 aircraft from this new series.

Turboprop Efficiency Has Users Holding On

posted Apr 16, 2013, 5:21 AM by Michael Adams

The average retirement age for turboprop aircraft is creeping up and the pace of retirements is decelerating—in contrast with the general pattern for commercial jets—with high fuel prices heightening the appeal of the propeller-driven flyers and manufacturers creating programs to extend their lives.

The continuation of the trend could depend on what happens to all of the used regional jets that will be entering the market over the next few years. Regulatory authorities also could change the dynamic by placing new, costly requirements on the aircraft. But for the moment, the shift has been significant: An analysis using Aviation Week Intelligence Network's (AWIN) fleet database shows that commercial airlines retired 493 turboprops from 2004-06 and 441 from 2007-09, but only 279 from 2010-12.

The database also indicates an average age of 32 for all 94 of the turboprops classified as retired in 2012. That follows by three years when the average age ranged from 29-30. The average age last approached 32 in 2008, and has not dropped below 28 since 2004.

What has happened? Fuel is a major factor; turboprops are more fuel efficient than the small jets that would be the alternative in some markets. Also, a wave of retirements from aircraft built in the 1970s and early 1980s has passed.

But there are additional circumstances as well. For example, demand for turboprops has picked up and so has their value, so airlines might be more willing to refurbish and hold onto them, says Michael Magnusson, the president of Saab Aircraft Leasing. Also, there is no widespread, suitable replacement for the smaller turboprops because no one is making them; the new ATRs are too expensive for many operators.

What could become a replacement for some operators are the smaller used regional jets (RJs) that will be flooding the market during the next few years. But Magnusson checked into that scenario last November and did not find much evidence to support it.

In perusing the more than a dozen long-time turboprop operators taking used RJs over the past four or five years, he found that each one only took a handful for specialized purposes—about 60 in total. Many of them did so because they could obtain the aircraft cheaply and use them for a couple of long-distance markets.
 
“Even if they're very cheap, they're still hard to justify on the shorter sectors,” Magnusson says. “I think there will be more RJs being parked than replacing turboprops.” On shorter flights, turboprop fuel savings usually trump RJ operational or marketing advantages.
 
Magnusson also does not foresee maintenance or structural issues with turboprops reversing the retirement trend anytime soon. Actions already have been taken to extend the lives of Saab 340s and older ATR 42s and Bombardier Dash 8s, he notes.
 
Of the 94 turboprops retired in 2012, only seven were from the ATR 42-300 family and three were Dash 8s, the AWIN database shows. Four were Saab 340As and two were 340Bs.
 
As of November 2012, Magnusson says, 75% of the 156 Saab 340As that were produced remained in service at an average age of 25 years and 87% of the 201 Saab 340Bs remained in service at an average age of 21.
 
What could take a toll are costly new regulatory requirements. “Any new electronic upgrade that authorities feel is necessary over the next 5-10 years can kill off airplanes if it costs $100,000 to install,” he says. “It probably will be something like that that accelerates the parking of airplanes.”
 
The data does show one potential warning sign for turboprops. On Airfax, which lists aircraft sale and lease offerings for more than 100 marketers worldwide, the number of postings doubled over the past year to more than 50 Saab 340s and 2000s and more than 60 for ATR 42s and 72s.
 
Airfax Publisher Jim Williams does not believe the ATR numbers are a sign of weakness in the market, but could instead reflect airlines putting older ones up for sale as they take delivery on newer versions. “It's a robust market,” he says. “I don't see any sign it is flooded.”
 
The Saab increase also could be a temporary spike based on how Saab, which controls a significant portion of the fleet, is pricing them, he says.
 
Turboprops in general, he adds, “are still very valid for operations today. For the short sectors, nothing beats them. There is not going to be a lot of demand, but there's going to be consistent demand for them.”

Bombardier CSeries test flight vehicle powers on

posted Mar 26, 2013, 12:33 AM by Michael Adams

Bombardier Aerospace has completed the first full powering-on of the main electrical distribution system on the first CSeries flight test vehicle (FTV1). Additionally, Bombardier confirmed it has concluded the wing down-bending static test on the Complete Airframe Static Test (CAST) article at the company's Saint-Laurent, Quebec facility.

“Together with the wing up-bending static test that was completed earlier in March 2013, the two most significant wing static tests required for first flight are now complete,” Bombardier said in a statement.

“Aircraft 0”—the on-the-ground ground integrated systems test rig for the CSeries aircraft—is currently undergoing safety-of-flight tests.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP and GM-CSeries Rob Dewar said all sub-systems can now be powered-on and the avionics suite can now be tested. He also said the completion of the CAST testing allows progression to the next experimental phase. “These are all important activities that will lead to the CSeries aircraft's safety-of-flight permit,” he said.

Pratt & Whitney GTF CSeries engine gains Transport Canada certification

posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:37 AM by Michael Adams

Pratt & Whitney’s PW1500G geared turbofan (GTF) engine, set to power the Bombardier CSeries, has received Transport Canada type certification.

Pratt said it conducted over 4,000 hours of testing on the engine, including 340 hours of flight testing.

“Certification of the PW1500G engine is a significant milestone and a critical step in supporting the progressive transfer of the first CSeries flight test vehicle to the flight test program,” Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP and GM Rob Dewar said in a statement, adding the manufacturer is “in the process of completing final assembly of the first CSeries flight test aircraft.”

Bombardier is targeting the end of June for first flight.

PW1000 series engines are also slated to power the Airbus A320neo, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. MRJ and Irkut MC-21. Embraer said last month second-generation E-Jets, which have not yet been officially launched, will be powered by PW1700G and PW1900G model engines.

Bombardier Transfers Partial CSeries Production to Morocco

posted Feb 10, 2013, 6:44 AM by Michael Adams

Bombardier started production of some of the components of the CSeries airliner at a transitional manufacturing facility in Morocco, the company said Thursday.
 
The transitional facility at the Mohammed V International Airport in Nouaceur in the Greater Casablanca region is temporary until Bombardier completes the construction of its new permanent facility near the airport.
 
“With 18 new local employees fully engaged and trained in the Bombardier manufacturing process and philosophy, this is the first step towards a long future of quality component manufacturing at another world-class Bombardier facility,” said Hugo Brouilliard, general manager of the Morocco facility.
 
Bombardier said workers at its Morocco location are currently producing simple structures including flight controls for the CRJSeries. The company expects to enter the CS100 CSeries into service in June.

Embraer Continues Second-Generation E-Jet Development

posted Feb 6, 2013, 2:07 AM by Michael Adams

A program of improvements aimed at reducing fuel burn by as much as 5.5% in some E-Jet versions is being introduced by Embraer as part of plans to bolster the regional jet product line in the run-up to the introduction of the re-engined second generation in 2018.

The Brazilian manufacturer also has announced that Honeywell’s Primus 2 integrated avionics system will be used for the second generation and that other key equipment selections will follow in the next three months.

The selection of Honeywell, which beat competition from Garmin and Rockwell Collins, follows Embraer’s surprise decision earlier this year to pick Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan for the new aircraft over the incumbent General Electric.

Honeywell provides the avionics suite for the current E-Jet family and, as part of the newly detailed multi-phase upgrade effort, also will supply its Next Generation Flight Management System (NGFMS) from 2015.

The updated FMS, which also is used on the Boeing 747-8 and Gulfstream 650, will support optimized flight profiles, including a “cost index” to cut fuel burn, Honeywell’s “smart landing” system, which reduces runway excursions, and compliance to required navigation performance standards of 0.1 nm.

Embraer’s E-Jet upgrade plan includes a wide-ranging series of aerodynamic, structural and systems improvements, the bulk of which also will be available for retrofit on the current E-Jet portfolio. Embraer, which first revealed the initiative in late January when it announced Republic Airways’ firm order for 47 E-175s, says the changes are part of a continuous upgrade path it has been following since the first E-Jet models entered service in 2004.

Packages will be introduced through 2015, although “. . . there are other things that we are considering for 2016/2017,” says Embraer Commercial Aviation Market Intelligence VP Claudio Camelier.

The initial element is a fuel burn improvement package along with a series of maintenance updates, all of which are being introduced this year.

The first fuel burn package includes a series of aerodynamic “clean-up” features to reduce drag, along with optimization of the environmental control (ECS) and anti-ice systems, to reduce excessive use of engine bleed air. The aero-package includes fillers to close drag-causing gaps in the horizontal tail, a revised rain deflector over the cabin doors, improved ram air doors in the lower fuselage and low-drag wheel fairings.

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