Bombardier Q400 Next Gen

OPINION: ATR and Bombardier should heed Embraer’s turboprop warning

Bombardier could be forgiven for thinking the world is against it.  With Boeing’s anti-dumping claims still ringing in its ears, there comes a strong hint from regional jet rival Embraer that it is serious about a return to the turboprop market.

The long-running Q400 line is not a big seller for Bombardier, but still represents a solid, if unspectacular, part of its product line-up. Not too long ago, sales of turboprop airliners were split 50:50 between the Canadian firm and Franco-Italian joint venture ATR.  Those days are some way behind us, however, with ATR now hoovering up a good 70% of the market. Bombardier has professed a long-term commitment to the Q400 and points to recent sales of the type as a sign of its longevity.

Although Embraer’s commercial chief John Slattery might initially have expressed enthusiasm for a new turboprop simply out of devilment, it appears that its interest has crystalised. Of course, Slattery is correct when he points out that both the Q400 and ATR 600-series use old technology – of both airframes and engines – and suggests a clean-sheet design could offer huge cost advantages. But the fact is that the market is not big enough to support three manufacturers in volume production, ignoring any chipping away at the margins from Chinese and Russian entrants. Slattery states that Embraer’s vision is to be the market leader in the space under 150 seats.

With its E-Jet line comfortably outselling Bombardier’s CRJ family, not to mention matching the CSeries, it is clear which of its rivals it views as the weaker party. You might go so far as to say that the Brazilian firm, like a piranha, smells blood in the water. Of course, all this may be academic. Perhaps the sums will not add up for Embraer, or it will fail to gain sufficient interest from potential customers to justify a programme launch. Equally, a problem with the development of the E2 or KC-390 military tanker/transport could require the diversion of precious engineering resources, pushing back the start of a new model. Nonetheless, even if Embraer’s interest in the turboprop segment is no more than fleeting, it should spur Bombardier – and ATR for that matter – into action. There may be no need for the fabled 90-seater, but the duopoly still needs to prepare for the future.

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