Air Transport World

Builders eye stretch programs to handle commuter traffic growth.

Paris--Somewhere between the after-burner blast of turbojet fighters and the rhythmic hum of turboprop airliners flying at this year's Paris salon came a different sound--the sound of airframes stretching.

Plans discussed at Paris for four new commuter/regional airframe programs stood in stark contrast to predictions and attitudes expressed nine months before at the Farnborough Air Show. There, the two frontrunners in a field racing into the 50/70-passenger market were "orphans in the commuter industry," to quote one sage. "Who'll buy a spruced-up retread or an unproven new-concept machine," asked another Farnborough observer, referring to Fokker's soon-to-fly 50 and British Aerospace's ATP. "The market is in the 30/40-seaters, and it is glutted."

During Farnborough '84, commuter interests were predicting "mass suicide" among amnufacturers building too many 30/40-seaters for the available market. Short Brothers Chairman Sir Phillip Foreman and his staff still adhere basically to his comments to that effect, but they also acknowledge a change in their targets. "The battlefront has moved from 30-40 seats up to the 40/60-seat market," noted a Shorts official.

The actions of Shorts, de Havilland, Avions de Transport Regional and Saab-Fairchild reflect that belief. Current program studies all demonstrate considerable corporate thinking into the market potential for aircraft in a range from 45 to 70 seats. The manufacturers' rationale for expanding their existing product lines illustrates many parallels in their ponderings.

Something new

Based on numerous interviews ATW conducted during this year's Paris salon, the field looks close to committed. Observers say the manufacturers really have very little choice if they want to retain current customers and attract new ones. …

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