IN FOCUS: Money worries marginalise small regional turboprops

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The Indian air force (IAF) commitment for 15 of the 14-seater twin-pusher Saras turboprops for use as trainers has re-invigorated this long-delayed programme.

Developed by National Aerospace Laboratories and to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics, the third prototype, designated the Saras PSA (standard production aircraft), is under construction and the manufacturer says it should be ready for first flight by the end of 2012.

The PSA is undergoing considerable modifications from earlier prototypes. Its weight is being reduced by about 500kg (1,100lb) to a projected final weight of 7,100kg through the use of advanced composite components, primarily on the carbon composite wings, which are being fabricated with an in-house-developed vacuum-enhanced resin-infusion technology.

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The Saras PSA (standard production aircraft), is under construction and should be ready for first flight by the end of 2012

Other major design criteria involve installing 895kW (1,200hp) PWAC PTA6-67A engines and improvements to the flight-control system. If first flight is achieved as planned, certification and first delivery to the IAF could take place in late 2013/early 2014.

The IAF could ultimately acquire more for various roles, with interest for 25 expressed by the Indian navy and coastguard. No progress has been reported on plans for a larger, 25-seater Saras-S or on interest expressed for either model by commercial customers.

Development of the Skylander SK-105 by Sky Aircraft, a GECI Aviation subsidiary, continues to be difficult following the lapse in February of a funding agreement between France, GECI International, the Lorraine regional government, and private investors.

Experts have assessed a funding requirement of $200 million, rather than the $120 million originally stipulated, which GECI International considers too high.

Sky Aircraft is also maintaining its production target of 1,500 aircraft and rejects the excessively low annual output of 48 aircraft per year specified by experts. What effect all this will have on a timetable for bringing the aircraft to the market has yet to be seen.

In January, Moscow-based Aviamost signed a memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of 40 aircraft and options for a further 260. Malaysia's MASwings also indicated an interest in the Skylander to replace its Twin Otter fleet, but is now expected to order the Viking Air Twin Otter 400.

Construction of four prototypes of this high-wing, unpressurised utility aircraft is under way, but the target of first flight in 2012 is certain to be missed. The Pratt & Whitney-powered aircraft can carry up to 19 passengers or 2.7t of freight, and will be capable of operating from short, unprepared airstrips in remote areas. A VIP version is also planned.

The Reims Aviation F406 unpressurised twin-turboprop, another aircraft in the GECI portfolio, continues to win orders for surveillance tasks, with some 80 in service worldwide.

SkyTitan International has yet to set a firm timetable for its new twin-turboprop ST6000 regional freighter, stating only that US Federal Aviation Administration certification will be achieved in the fourth year of a five-year development programme, with 25 aircraft due to be delivered by the end of year five. Production of the ST6000 will increase to 71 aircraft by the end of year six, and 96 aircraft by the end of year seven, which will reach full capacity of the MidAmerica St Louis airport facility.

SkyTitan has received commitments from the State of Illinois and the County of St Clair for the development of the ST6000. St Clair will provide $24 million for the construction of administration and manufacturing facilities, with a long term lease-back to SkyTitan, while its state governor has agreed to provide an $8 million tax credit, among other benefits. SkyTitan claims letters of intent and indicated interest for 110 aircraft, with a revenue potential of $2 billion.

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Czech company Evektor-Aerotechnik has made significant progress with its PT6A-21-powered, high-wing EV-55

China, which was visited by the governor of Illinois, could be a lucrative market for the ST6000, with plans to develop a joint venture between SkyTitan, Air China and DHL. SkyTitan expects to capture 15% of the total world market requirement for regional freighters of 3,500 aircraft. The all-aluminium, high-wing ST6000 will be powered by twin PW150 engines and has been designed to accommodate up to six M1 main deck containers from widebody aircraft in the uninterrupted cargo bay, with simultaneous loading possible through sliding side and rear cargo doors. It will be able to operate from short runways and has a projected range of close to 900nm (1,660km) with maximum payload of 15,875kg.

Czech company Evektor-Aerotechnik has made significant progress with its PT6A-21-powered, high-wing EV-55 Outback, which has achieved more than 60 hours in its flight-test certification programme so far, and says it is in a position to offer delivery slots to initial customers and is prepared to enter into deposit agreements to secure the first tranche of deliveries.

The EV-55 is being promoted in three versions, for up to 14 passengers, 1,824kg of cargo, or in a combi configuration with cargo in the front of the cabin and passenger seating at the rear. Also available is the militarised EV-55M. The rugged utility aircraft is being targeted at developing countries, where its low price and good performance from unpaved runways would give it a significant advantage over competing types.

In July, Cessna announced the latest version of its Caravan product line, the Grand Caravan EX, which offers increased power to extend missions into regions with higher altitude and higher temperatures.

The new PWAC PT6A-140 engine provides an almost 25% increase in power to 867hp, boosting performance in climb and cruise speed, as well as enabling a reduction in take-off roll of 350ft (107m). For the first time since the Grand Caravan's introduction in 1994, the new EX model can be modified for amphibious missions with Wipaire floats.