Turboprops continue to meet utility needs worldwide
Advantages include significantly less fuel burn, shorter runway needs, efficiency at lower altitudes, longer TBOs.
It's also available in a regional airliner configuration with 9 pax seats. The aircraft is standard-equipped with a 52 x 52-inch cargo door that adds to its appeal as a special-mission platform. The US military operates the PC12 as the U28A, and it is also flown by the Dept of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Pilatus also lists aeromedical and parajumping among its special-mission capabilities.
The latest version is the PC12 NG (Next Generation). Introduced at the NBAA convention in 2007, it has proved very popular and was one of the few business aviation products that actually had more deliveries in 2009 (100) than in 2008 (97).
Pilatus Business Aircraft VP Marketing Charles Mayer cites the PC12's "go-anywhere, carry-anything capability, as well as operating costs dramatically lower than its primary turboprop and light jet competitors," for its success.
Part of competing in the higher end of the corporate market is offering "big jet avionics"—a factor cited by both Mayer and Gunnarson as important to potential customers in big flight departments. The PC12 is equipped with a Honeywell Apex panel—an evolution from Honeywell's Epic system.
Mayer says market conditions favor continued prosperity in the turboprop segment. "With rising fuel costs, an uncertain economy and an increasing focus on green products, we expect the turboprop market to increase in relevance, consumer interest and sales," he says.
Daher Socata's TBM850 is the fastest single-engine turboprop currently in production, with high-speed cruise capability in the 320-kt range. Low acquisition and operating costs, reduced environmental signature and short field capability are keys to its market success.
Daher Socata advertises its TBM850 as the fastest single-engine turboprop in the world. The low-wing metal aircraft is designed to carry a pilot and up to 5 pax on trips up to 1500 nm at a cruise speed of 320 kts and altitudes up to FL310—a mission profile the company says represents 90% of GA IFR flights. Recent product enhancements include a Garmin all-glass cockpit added in 2008, synthetic vision capability in 2009 and a flight data logging system last year.
Socata North America Pres Nicolas Chabbert says the TBM850's speed and range capability is enhanced by its reduced operating cost, low environmental signature and ability to access small airports with runways shorter than 3000 ft.
Chabbert says owners selecting the TBM850 primarily cite the ratio of cost of operations to performance. "Our owners want to arrive at their destination quickly and efficiently," he says. Moreover, "stepping up to the TBM850 is an achievable task for a 500-hr pilot with an instrument rating." He adds, "It's an easy aircraft to maintain proficiency, with its annual training requirement as opposed to every 6 months."
Another manufacturer building a turboprop geared to the classic corporate market is Piaggio. Its P180 Avanti II twin features a nontraditional pusher design with a 3-surface aerodynamic configuration.
Among corporate-style turboprops, the Avanti II offers the closest to jetlike performance, with a cruise speed in the 400-kt range and a certified ceiling to FL410. It also has the largest cabin cross section, with a height of 5 ft 10 in and a width of 6 ft 1 in. The cabin is 17 ft 6 in from aft bulkhead to cabin divider. In typical corporate configuration it seats 6–9 pax. The cabin is pressurized to 9 psi, giving it a sea-level cabin at FL240. It is certified for single-pilot operation.
Piaggio says the Avanti II can operate from runways as short as 3265 ft at sea level on a standard day, using 2-engine takeoff criteria. MTOW is 12,100 lbs, putting the Avanti II below the level requiring a type rating—an important consideration for some turboprop customers.
As with most turboprop manufacturers, special-mission configurations are an important market for Piaggio. The Avanti is advertised in maritime patrol, air ambulance and flight inspection (airways calibration) roles, as well as corporate configuration.
Flightdeck of the Piper Meridian, equipped with the new Garmin G1000 avionics suite.
The Piper PA46 Meridian is a low-wing turboprop configured much like the TBM850, its direct competitor.
It typically has seating for a pilot and 4 or 5 pax. Piper Dir of Marketing Jackie Carlon says the Meridian "costs a million less than the nearest single-engine turboprop competitor and costs 30% less to operate.
It can fly into known icing, has a 1000-nm range ... and cruises at 260 KTAS." The Meridian uses the -42 version of the PT6A, rated at 500 shp, which contributes to its efficiency and lower operating cost. It can operate from airports in the 2500-ft range at sea level on a standard day.
Carlon says operators choose the Meridian "for its reliability and economy wrapped up in a comfortable cabin-class business environment," citing recent product upgrades including a Garmin G1000 avionics suite with standard dual 10-in displays, WAAS GPS and optional traffic and terrain warning.
Carlon is optimistic about the turboprop market, "especially since owners and operators seem to be increasingly cost conscious." She notes that the Meridian is the least expensive product in the corporate transport category.
Best selling turboprop last year through 3Q2010 is the Cessna 208 Caravan—the high-wing unpressurized single that the company offers in 4 versions—Caravan 675, Caravan Amphibian, Grand Caravan and Super Cargomaster. All are powered by the PT6A-114A and cruise in the 185-kt range, except for the amphibian, which is about 20 kts slower. The 675 seats 8 pax while the Grand Caravan seats 10.
The Grand Caravan outsells the 675 by a wide margin. Of the 71 Caravans delivered through 3Q2010, 63 were Grand Caravans. The Caravan was first certified in 1984 and was the first in a generation of single-engine aircraft that now dominate the turboprop market.