A Time of Evolution

High density, combi and dual-class layouts and new avionics - ATR and Bombardier have each introduced many new innovations to their aircraft in recent years

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Ryukyu Air Commuter, a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, was the launch customer for Cargo Combi, one of several configuration options introduced on the Q400 in recent years. Andrew H Cline

Earlier in the 2010s, the possibility of new, larger turboprop airliners became a hot topic among aerospace industry analysts as the market segment’s two dominant original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), ATR and Bombardier, investigated developing clean-sheet aircraft with up to 100 seats.

In the last couple of years, however, the concept has dropped down the agenda. Richard Aboulafia, Vice-President Analysis at the Teal Group consultancy, told AIR International he thinks the idea of larger turboprops “certainly looks shelved”.

He said: “This to me is a supply-side problem. Until Bombardier prioritises props or until Leonardo can replace Airbus with a difierent partner, neither company will move ahead with all-new larger props.”

Stasis over clean-sheet designs doesn’t, however, mean these OEMs have been inactive. The last few years have been a time of evolution for the ATR 42/ATR 72 and Dash 8 Q400, with each manufacturer launching many new configurations for their aircraft.

Higher Capacity

One innovation is higher-density seating. In 2013, Bombardier introduced for the Q400 a new extra-capacity option of 86 seats at 29in (736mm) pitch, up from the standard single-class layout of 82 seats at 30in (762mm) pitch. The capacity increase was achieved by removing the 91ft3 (2.57m3) forward baggage bay and converting the former baggage bay door into a new emergency exit. Bombardier claims a Q400 with an extra-capacity layout has a per-seat fuel burn advantage of up to 8% over its competitor and a seat cost advantage of 20% (based on a 300 nautical miles/550km sector).

There’s a further higher-density option for the Q400, offering extra capacity of 90 seats at 29in (736mm) pitch. Bombardier was the first OEM to offer a turboprop with so many seats. So far, the company hasn’t revealed whether any Q400 buyers have gone for the 90-seat option. However, Nok Air has introduced the 86-seat configured aircraft. The Thai low-cost airline has eight Q400s in service, with each one wearing a unique livery representing birds of Thailand.

ATR launched a high-capacity option for the ATR 72-600 at the Paris Air Show in 2015. This increases the aircraft’s maximum capacity to 78 seats at 28in (711mm) pitch, up from the standard 74 seats. The increase was achieved by replacing the traditional galley at the rear of the aircraft with one row of seats. Following European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification in December 2015, Cebu Pacific put the first high-capacity ATR 72-600 into service in September 2016. The manufacturer says the configuration reduces per-seat operating costs by 7% compared to a standard 72-seat ATR 72-600.

Dual Class

In addition to the higher-density seating configuration, Bombardier also offers a 67-seat dual-class option on the Q400. This features seven seats in business class, each at 36in (914mm) pitch, and 60 economy seats at 30in (762mm) pitch, as well as dual lavatories (one at the front and one at the back).

Orders for this layout have been received from Air Canada (for its Jazz operation), Air Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopian Airlines and WestJet (for its Encore unit), which have put their dual-class Q400s into operation on to trunk routes to regional airports feeding their main hubs.

Meanwhile, ATR has introduced a revised cabin design called Armonia, which features ergonomic and lighter slim-line seats, wider reshaped overhead stowage bins and LED lighting. In June 2016, the company certified what it calls a Smart Galley, designed to increase storage capacity and allow easy reconfiguration. Smart Galley is available for line-fit installation, as well as for retrofit on in-service aircraft.

Combi

Each OEM offers a combi option. Bombardier launched its Cargo Combi product at the Farnborough Air Show in 2014. One layout offers 68 seats at 29in (736mm) pitch and 828ft3 (23m3) of cargo volume, the other 50 seats at 32in (813mm) pitch and 1,150ft3 (32m3) of cargo volume. Up to 9,000lb (4,082kg) of cargo can be carried. Ryukyu Air Commuter, a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, was the launch customer for Cargo Combi, ordering five of the 50-seaters. It received its first example in March 2016.

ATR’s combi option on the ATR 72-600 is called Cargo Flex. This features 44 passenger seats at 29in (736mm) pitch and 19.2m3 (678ft3) of cargo volume, enough space for four large containers, and the ability to carry 3,100kg (6,830lb) of cargo load. This compares to 10.6m3 (374ft3) of cargo volume and 1,700kg (3,750lb) of load capacity on an ATR 72-600 with a 72-passenger layout. The change was achieved by replacing seven seat rows in the forward section of the aircraft.

Cargo Flex, which is also offered as a retrofit on in-service ATRs, received EASA certification in October 2015 and entered service with launch customer PNG Air in Papua New Guinea the following month.

Freighter

ATR additionally offers a passenger-to-freighter conversion option for the ATR 42 and ATR 72. Since its first freighter was delivered to Farnair in July 2002 around 100 ATRs have been converted. Among the operators are two of the major parcel delivery companies, DHL and FedEx, which use ATR freighters in their fleets in Europe and North America respectively.

Customers can choose for their freighters to be configured for either payload or volume. The payload optimiser option (also known as light tube) is designed for bulk transportation. According to ATR’s brochure, this provides up to 6,613kg (14,579lb) of payload in the ATR 42-500 and up to 8,904kg (19,630lb) in the ATR 72-500. The gross volume available is 47m3 (1,660ft3) in the ATR 42-500 and 64m3 (2,260ft3) in the ATR 72-500. Freight is fixed with spider nets.

The alternative option, volume optimiser (also known as structural tube), is intended for rough loading operations. It features a reinforced lateral panel with tracks and installation points. In this layout, the ATR 42-500 can carry up to 6,473kg (14,270lb) of cargo and the ATR 72-500 up to 8,723kg (19,230lb). Gross volume available is 56m3 (1,978ft3) in the ATR 42-500 and 75.5m3 (2,666ft3) in the ATR 72-500.

A large cargo door (LCD) option enables the aircraft to carry pallets or LD3 containers, with the cargo loaded and unloaded through an LCD on the left side of the forward fuselage. An ATR 42 can accommodate five LD3s or three 88 x 108in (2.235 x 2.743m) pallets or six 88 x 62in (2.235m x 1.574m) pallets. An ATR 72 has capacity for seven LD3s or five 88 x 108in pallets or nine 88 x 62in pallets.

Bombardier does not offer a dedicated freighter version of the Q400. However, Cascade Aerospace has a supplementary type certificate for a Q400-PF (Package Freighter) conversion, which provides 8,980kg (19,800lb) of payload capacity.

Meeting Difierent Needs

The evolution in ATR and Bombardier’s products reflects the diversity in how turboprop airliners are used. The variety of configurations shows that although commercial turboprop airliners are a single niche in the air transport industry, it is perhaps more accurate to say there are really niches within the niche.

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Launch customer for the combi option on the ATR 72-600 was PNG Air in Papua New Guinea. ATR
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Around 100 ex-passenger ATRs have now been converted to freighters, with FedEx one of the operators. HAMFive/AirTeamImages

With turboprops used in difierent ways, the OEMs are aware they need to keep finessing their products to meet operators’ needs. Kevin Smith, Vice-President Regional Aircraft at Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, told AIR International: “Airlines demand flexibility to adapt to their market growth, expand productivity and reduce operating costs. We are continually discussing with airlines their needs and product enhancements on all of our platforms, including the Q400. We are also looking at how we could continue to improve the passenger appeal.”

An ATR spokesman said the European company aims to “incrementally evolve” its aircraft to meet customer expectations. This activity involves work on upgrading avionics, the brakes and engines and improving short-field performance, payload and range. He added: “Our aim is to decrease by some 15% the operating costs per seat.”

Economics

This aim is interesting, because it shows that despite the adaptation of the ATRs and Q400 for difierent markets, the economics and performance of turboprops compared to regional jets is still of paramount importance to the OEMs.

ATR’s marketing claims that compared to a regional jet, its ATR 72-600 burns half as much fuel as a 70-seat regional jet on a block fuel basis, while Bombardier says a Q400 burns 30% less fuel than competing regional jets.

However, with the new generation of regional jets such as the Embraer E-Jets E2 and Mitsubishi Regional Jet featuring more fuele ficient engines, can turboprops maintain their attraction in terms of eficiency? Both manufacturers believe so.

The ATR spokesman said: “The market does not have the certitude that the oil prices will not go up again in the coming months and

ON THE FLIGHT DECK

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ATR is working on integrating the Elbit Systems Clearvision Enhanced Vision System as an option for the ATR 600 Series. Renato Serra Fonseca/AirTeamImages
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The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400’s cockpit which, like the ATR, features a Thales-manufactured flight deck. Gerard Griessel/AirTeamImages

ATR and Bombardier products are fitted with the latest avionics to improve pilots’ situational awareness and assist them in managing their workload. Many of these systems have particular applicability to a turboprop, especially for those operators flying into and out of remote airports that have little or poor infrastructure. The two OEMs have sought to ensure that operators of their aircraft in such regions benefit from avionics that enhance safety and reliability.

Both the ATR 72-600 and Dash 8 Q400 have modern glass cockpits. The ATR 72-600’s flight deck is manufactured by Thales and is composed of five interchangeable LCD screens and a dual flight management system. The cockpit has 30% fewer part numbers than previousgeneration ATR cockpits and 15% lower maintenance costs, according to ATR’s marketing.

Key functions in the ATR 42-600 and ATR 72-600 cockpit include a traffic collision and avoidance system, required navigation performance with authorisation required (RNP-AR), localiser performance with vertical guidance (LPV) with satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) capability, vertical navigation (VNAV), and automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) Out DO- 260B. There is also Class 2 electronic flight bag (EFB) compatibility

The Q400 cockpit likewise has an advanced five-LCD screen flight deck supplied by Thales. It features Coupled VNAV, SBAS, LPV, RNP-AP, ADS-B Out, an enhanced ground proximity warning system, a head-up guidance system and Class 2 EFB compatibility.

The LPV system enables precision approaches (with minimums of up to 200ft/60m visibility) based on GPS information augmented by geostationary satellites. This allows the aircraft to be guided on vertical and horizontal axes without the need for support from a ground station, and so is ideal for flying into airports that are not equipped with an instrument landing system.

The RNP-AR system allows aircraft to follow trajectories more accurately, to within 0.3 mile (0.4km) with RNP-AR 0.3 on the ATRs and to within 0.1 mile (0.16km) with RNP 0.1 on the Q400. ATR is working on improving RNP AR on its aircraft from 0.3 to 0.1 mile. RNP-AR offers increased monitoring of aircraft performance combined with onboard navigation alerts, which permits the reduced minimums compared to conventional RNAV approaches. RNP-AR is also used in the management of traffic at heavily congested airports or for anti-noise procedures.

The VNAV functionality provides vertical guidance managed by the aircraft’s navigation calculator in the flight management system (FMS). Based on the calculations of the FMS, the autopilot controls the aircraft to follow a specified vertical profile. The purpose is to improve safety by better defining descent and approach trajectories.

In addition to all these systems, in 2015 ATR announced an agreement with Elbit Systems to integrate the Clearvision Enhanced Vision System (EVS) as an option for both the ATR 72-600 and ATR 42-600 or as a retrofit for 600-series aircraft already in service. Clearvision provides the pilots with head-up information about the flight directly to their eyes by means of the Skylens wearable display, which presents high-resolution information, images and video on a high transparency visor, replacing the traditional head-up display. ATR will be the launch customer for Skylens. Certification is planned for this year.

An ATR spokesman told AIR International: “Enhancing flight safety, the new system will also contribute to the operational availability of turboprop aircraft operating from airfields lacking sophisticated infrastructure. Suitable for day and night operations and in all weather conditions, the system provides head-up information while minimising the dependency on airport instrumentation. Equipped with the new Clearvision EFVS and Skylens wearable display, aircraft are capable of take-off and landing in low-visibility conditions and in locations that non EVS-equipped aircraft previously could not approach.” years; there is a strong volatility. You better use aircraft [to ensure] the lowest fuel burn, in case fuel prices substantially rise again.

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Different companies use the same aircraft in differing ways; for example, All Nippon Airways using Q400s for regional feeder services differs to the combi and freighter services of other operators. Edwin Chai/AirTeamImages
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Ethiopian Airlines is one of several carriers that have ordered the dual-class Q400, which features seven business class seats with 36in (914mm) pitch. Bombardier Commercial Aircraft

“It is important also to note that many of our operators depend primarily on local currency for revenues, while fuel and oil are priced in US dollars. With the strengthening of the dollar, these airlines are not benefiting much from lower oil prices given the weakness of their currencies. Thus, the fuel burn advantage is still very important. Despite the evolution of jets in terms of fuel consumption, turboprops remain ahead.”

Bombardier echoes the idea that turboprops can still be competitive. Ross Mitchell, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, told AIR International: “In a time of fuel price volatility, it’s always important to have an aircraft that burns less fuel and turboprops fulfil that mission. The Q400 can fly routes that jets would fly, but with the fuel burn advantage of a turboprop; and if the fuel prices lower, the Q400 still competes with jets.”

For Bombardier, though, it isn’t just about the economics. The Canadian company continues to stress the Q400’s speed capability as a competitive advantage against its European rival. Mitchell said: “With flexible speed, the Q400 offers operators the ability to fly slower and minimise fuel burn or fly faster to maximise productivity or for when an airline needs to maintain schedule integrity.”

Smith expanded on this point: “Being 30% faster than conventional turboprops, with a maximum cruise speed of 360 knots, the aircraft can easily fly between Frankfurt and Paris in an hour, for example. Its maximum range of 1,114 nautical miles [2,063km], coupled with its versatility, is also helping operators to replace and supplement jet routes, expanding their market opportunities.”

A key word in that statement is versatility. Ultimately, the work of both OEMs during the last few years in developing the range of options for their aircraft has all been about offering flexibility to operators across the turboprops sector. This, combined with the eficiencies of operation, is likely to continue to drive sales.

As a statement from the ATR spokesman put it: “Populations, living standards and therefore connectivity needs are growing and regional dynamics are changing in both mature and emerging markets. Turboprops have a key role to play in that expansion, promoting community development with links between secondary and tertiary airports as well as regional access into/out of the main hubs.” Mark Broadbent

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The Cargo Combi interior on the Ryukyu Air Commuter Dash 8 Q400. Bombardier Commercial Aircraft