May 06, 2013
As plans for larger next-generation turboprop airliners gather pace, Safran group engine makers Snecma and Turbomeca have revealed ambitious studies of a potential new powerplant to compete against General Electric and Pratt & Whitney Canada offerings.
The study engine, outlined by Snecma Chairman/CEO Pierre Fabre, is targeted at a power range up to around 5,000 shp, which is far larger than any previous turboprop made by Turbomeca. If launched, the engine would compete head-on with similarly sized project turboprops already outlined by P&WC, the dominant player in the regional market, and by GE, which is evaluating a possible commercial spinoff of its recently developed GE38 military turboshaft.
“What happens in the regional jet market and for emerging new turboprops?” asks Fabre, who formerly headed Turbomeca. “The price of oil is coming back up and I'm convinced we'll see the reverse of what we saw in the early 1990s with the move to jets. That's an area where we want to be able to play a part.” As a result, he adds, the two Safran engine makers have launched “advanced product development studies into turboprops of 5,000 shp and below.”
The engine would combine various elements from the Safran members. As with the even more powerful TP400-D6 turboprop for the Airbus Military A400M, Snecma would provide the high-pressure turbine. The compressor, on the other hand, could be based on that of the Silvercrest business jet engine which “was partially designed originally by Turbomeca. [The latter] has huge experience in certifying compressors and Snecma has a strong history in fixed-wing engine development. It captures the spirit of the group without losing focus on the individual businesses,” Fabre adds.
However Safran's big turboprop plans, like those of its competitors, remain subject to the indefinite launch proposals of the airframe manufacturers. Although Bombardier's proposed Q400X turboprop plans remain relatively quiet while it focuses on sales of the current product and developing CSeries, the competition from Franco-Italian ATR appears more bullish, with firmer plans projected for a larger successor to the ATR 72. Outside of the traditional Western sphere, however, Fabre sees potential for more new large turboprops in China, India and Russia. This could also forge new industrial links with Asia. “China will be a huge market, and that is where the turboprop will be,” he says.
Snecma's growing ambitions to expand into new market segments along with its Safran partners comes as the company moves into the production phase of the TP400-D6 turboprop and toward the start of flight tests of the Silvercrest engine. Besides the high-pressure turbine for the TP400-D6—a joint project with Rolls-Royce, MTU and ITP of Spain—the French manufacturer also provides the combustor, starter, engine control and overall installation. Through its Safran group partners, Hispano-Suiza and Techspace Aero, it also supplies the accessory gearbox and lubrication system, respectively. Despite a difficult early start for Europrop International (EPI), the developers of the big turboprop are optimistic about the project as delivery of the first A400M to the French air force approaches. Four aircraft will be delivered this year, and by 2015 EPI will be delivering eight engines per month.
Pratt & Whitney Canada—which recently shipped components to MTU in advance of the start of advanced compressor rig tests in June for its next-generation regional turboprop—does not anticipate the launch of any new projects before mid-2014. With the earliest entry-into-service of a new-generation turboprop not expected until the 2019-20 timeframe, Marketing Vice President Richard Dussault believes the big commercial turboprop arena will be too congested to support a third player. “Clearly, I don't think there will be three engine makers in the market. We essentially invented this market, and with 37 different models of the PW100—not including turboprop versions of the PT6—that's the core value we bring to the airframers.”