The importance of Regional Jets in the future European Air Transport and the role of Alenia Aeronautica

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The importance of Regional Jets in the future European Air Transport and the role of Alenia Aeronautica
Toulouse, March 28th, 2008

Alessandro Franzoni, Alenia Aeronautica

The demand of Regional Aircraft is experiencing a continuous growth thanks to the increased flexibility of use and lesser operating costs, that offer the possibility to open new routes and to increase point to point connections making economic sense.
Regional Air Transport represents today a fundamental factor to realize an integrated and global network of air transport, connecting countries, people, cultures.
Last year more than 2 billions passengers have selected air transportation for their business or leisure travels.

Air traffic has grown at an average pace of 5% per year and is expected to grow at 5.8% in the next 5 years.

A major role has been accomplished by Regional Airlines, namely those airlines that, some time operating in code sharing with the Majors, develop the most part of their traffic using aircraft up to 100-120 seats. Traffic developed by Regional Airlines has increased by an average factor of about 8% during the last 15 years, which is approximately double than the growth factor experienced by Major airlines, confirming the great dinamicity of the regional air traffic. Regional Airlines operate a fleet of more than 8800 aircraft, equal to 41% of total world fleet, and are responsible for more than 30000 daily flights, representing 46% of total world flights.
Even though emerging markets (India, China, Latin America) will experience growth rates above the sector average, the absolute value of the demand in US and Europe will continue to outnumber the rest of the market for a while.
Regional Air Transport industry employs today about 270000 employees, of which 38% are in the US and 22% in Europe.
The secret of success for Regional Airlines means satisfy the demand in the more flexible way, maintaining low operating costs. Satisfy demand means to provide an high number of frequencies on the connections between small regional airports and the major hubs and to satisfy the increasing demand of point to point connections.

Really important is the role covered by Regional Aircraft for what concerns the so called “small-communities”: almost 60% of world airports have connections with only 1 or 2 destinations and more than 70% of such connections is made with regional aircraft. Some local airports are covered only by regional aircraft in Europe they accounts for about 375, meaning 25% of the total. Maintaining such connections is of vital importance for the survival and the development of such local communities.

In the same manner with air traffic growth, atmospheric and acoustic pollution originated by air transport has increased. The typology of connections and the high number of frequencies make the issue more relevant for local communities, living close to urban areas near to regional airports.

It is estimated that more than 50% of take offs and landings in Europe beyond 2010 will be made by Regional Aircraft.

The potential demand for new Regional Aircraft in the next 20 years is estimated in about 7800 units for a value of about 200 Billions $. It is estimated that almost one third of the demand will be required by European Airlines.
Increased cost of fuel may force an early retirement of older and non fuel efficient models. Turboprops momentum will last until when oil prices will be sustained, because the percentage impact of fuel costs on total costs is lower on turboprops than on jets and current turboprops are more fuel efficient.

In the meantime the average length of a trip for a regional aircraft, currently at around 300 Nm, is moving towards 500 Nm, and average size of aircraft sold is growing, as more city pairs are opened, both factors playing in favour of regional jets.

Great changes have been experienced within the competitive scenario of regional aircraft in the last 15 years: these changes led to the exit of important Original Equipment Manufacturers like Fokker, Fairchild-Dornier, Shorts, Saab and BAe in Europe and Beech in North America.
Current worldwide offer for Regional Aircraft is supported only by three OEM’s: Bombardier (Canada), Embraer (Brasil) and ATR (France-Italy).
Bombardier is the only OEM currently active both with turboprops and regional jets. Bombardier offers two families of regional jets: the CRJ100/200, with an average size of 50 seats, the first regional jets offered on the market about fifteen years ago, and the CRJ700/900 family, ranging from 70 to 86 seats. Turboprops offered by Bombardier are the members of the Dash8 family, with increasing capacity from 37 seats (DHC8-200) to 50 seats (DHC8-300) and to 74 seats (DHC8-400).
Embraer proposal is based on two families of regional jets which include a total of seven different models: the smallest family, ERJ 135/140/145, has a capacity ranging from 37 to 50 seats; the larger, ERJ170/175/190/195, offers capacity ranging from 70 to 108 seats.
ATR, company owned by EADS and Alenia Aeronautica, is present on the market with its family of turboprops ATR42/72, with capacity of 46 and 66 seats respectively. The last versions -500 of both models offer significantly improvements in term of performances and comfort, with noise and vibration levels drastically lower and the new one, -600, adding a Glass-Cockpit and further comfort in the cabin.

New players are in the meantime facing the market: AVIC 1 (China) with two versions of a regional jet, ARJ21-700 having 78-85 seats, and ARJ21-900 having 98-105 seats; Mitsubishi (Japan) with a family of jets powered by an advanced propulsion system based on the Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbo Fan. It is not strange that new competitors are coming from regions where the annual growth of regional traffic is above average. While the Chinese project seems largely dedicated to satisfy internal demand, the Japanese project could benefit from P&W advanced technology and market position and from MHI technological base on composite, derived from the participation to the 787 program.

Alenia Aeronautica is deeply involved and intends to strengthen its presence with a more and more significant role in the segment of regional aircraft, where has been active for more than 20 years.

In fact it was at the beginning of the ‘80s that the ATR consortium saw the light: paritetically created by the former Aerospatiale (now EADS) and Aeritalia (now Alenia Aeronautica) for the development, certification, marketing and sale and production of a family of turboprops regional aircraft the ATR 42 (40-50 seats) and the ATR 72 (60-70 seats). The ATR program has been really successful, with more than 950 sales and a significant backlog, requesting an increase in the production rates with respect to the most recent years to cope with increasing customer demand.

The continuous product improvement, through the development of configuration updates, with increased performances, comfort and economics, has maintained high the competitiveness of the ATR family through the years.
During the 90’s, to answer to the entrance on the marketplace of the first regional jets, Alenia Aeronautica developed advanced feasibility studies for new regional aircraft and participated to advanced experimental international programs, like the one on propfan, to study advanced propulsion system technologies and integration on aircraft.

An attempt was developed to integrate the ATR company with the BAe System business of regional aircraft, which gave birth to AI(R): the new partnership studied also the possibility to develop a new regional jet of about 70 seats.

In parallel studies for a larger size regional jet, ranging to the 100 seats capacity, where conducted in teaming with the Chinese.

Lack of further international partnership and evolution of the market prevented the launch of a new program and Alenia Aeronautica put all the studies on hold.

Recently, in July 2007, Alenia Aeronautica has signed an agreement with the Russian company Sukhoi Holding for joint participation to the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program. This agreement allows Alenia Aeronautica to extend its proposal to include a regional jet family in addition to the ATR turboprop and to have access to new markets.

The family, currently based on the model 95 (98 seats), envisages also a smaller member (model 75, 78 seats) and a bigger one, currently under definition but with capacity ranging in the 120 seats region.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 incorporates advanced Russian technology in aerodynamics, with a wing supercritical profile that increase efficiency and reduces weights and fuel consumption.

Propulsion System is the result of a joint venture between French Safran and Russian Saturn, which created PowerJet, a 50%/50% owned company, which is a risk sharing partner in the program.

Avionics is provided by Thales (which provides also the Full Flight Simulators), and is largely common with the most advanced A380 avionics solutions.

General system technology is provided by the most advanced European and US companies, like Liebherr providing full fly by wire flight controls.

Western technology content is close to 70%, French content is equal to 33% for the standard aircraft.

While Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company, that retains responsibility for development and certification of the baseline aircraft, is responsible to market and sell the Sukhoi Superjet 100 in CIS and eastern markets, the new company Superjet International, owned by Alenia Aeronautica (51%) and Sukhoi Holding (49%) and based in Venezia (Italy) is responsible to market and sell the aircraft in Europe and in all the western markets, to deliver the customized aircraft from Venezia and to ensure worldwide customer services to all Sukhoi Superjet 100 fleet.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 offers comfort tipycal of a standardbody, with a 5-abreast configuration @ 32” pitch, cabin height and overhead bins volume comparable with aircraft of superior size, while maintaining the lower operating costs of a regional aircraft.

Use of advanced state of the art technologies allows the Sukhoi Superjet 100 to save 12-15% on cash operating costs on an average trip with respect to the closest competitor and provides a 10% saving on direct operating costs, DOC.

Through the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program Europe is coming back in the arena of regional jets players, in a timeframe where the economical and social impact of the regional aircraft portion of the total air traffic for Europe will be predominant.

Alenia Aeronautica has developed through the years its own competencies in the regional aircraft sector, with qualified experience in all the phases of the Life Cycle, from Marketing and Sale to Design, Development, Test and Certification, to Manufacturing Processes and to Customer Services. Such competencies allow Alenia Aeronautica to target an important and ambitious objective: the development of a new family of regional aircraft, of a future generation, with strong innovative content, low environmental impact and low operating costs, elements that are all needed for product success.

In line with this view, Alenia Aeronautica is intensifying efforts to develop, test and validate innovative technologies specific for regional aircraft, to ensure their worldwide competitiveness.
Among innovative technologies, the ones related to satisfy environmental concerns and increase air transport safety are particularly significant.

Most part of research and validation activities related to these technologies will be conducted by Alenia Aeronautica within the 7th Framework Program and the Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative, the new technological demonstration program associated to the 7th FP that will validate new technologies through the use of demonstrators, both on ground and in flight. Alenia Aeronautica participates to Clean Sky as leader of the Green Regional Aircraft ITD-Integrated Technology Demonstrator.

Market data projections underline the future impact of regional aircraft traffic, and, with the increase of such traffic, the material contribution expected from this class of aircraft to the reduction of pollution generated by air traffic.

Definition and development of new technologies have to take into account the peculiarities of regional transport, resulting in more competitiveness for the airlines.

The relatively small fuel fraction on a regional aircraft makes the operating empty weight a bigger fraction than on standard bodies. Since OEW accounts significantly on flight efficiency, the relative importance of OEW on regional aircraft is higher than on standard bodies in term of fuel consumption and related emissions.

In addition, the high number of take offs and landings made by regional aircraft makes more important the development of technologies to lower external noise and optimizing flight paths, reducing overall impact on local communities around airport areas.

Further environmental benefits may derive from the use of advanced aircraft architectures and from more efficient propulsion systems and general systems.

The objectives of the Regional Aircraft ITD will be to bring to maturation those technologies more impacting on the above mentioned terms.

Two will be the technological area that will be addressed:

  • Low Weight Configurations, where multi functional structures based on advanced composite materials will be developed, avoiding addition of structures/materials to cope with electrical conductivity, internal noise reduction and thermal insulation. In addition the insertion of sensors embedded within the main structural elements will allow to monitor structural integrity, again allowing weight reduction and better maintenance planning

  • Low Noise Configurations, which includes aerodynamic solutions to reduce the noise generated by the airflow around aircraft surfaces close to terminal areas. Appropriate configurations for movable surfaces and for the landing gear zone will be studied, using systems absorbing and reflecting sound waves close to noise sources. Acting on movable surfaces the requirements for high aerodynamic efficiency and reduction of aerodynamics loads in gust and manoeuvre will be taken into due account. In principle it will be necessary to proceed through multidisciplinary optimizations that, in addition to lower noise, can lead to less fuel consumption, and therefore reduction of emissions, through the improvement of aerodynamic efficiency in particular during climb and descent and through the reduction of the OEW.

Within the JTI it is essential for Alenia Aeronautica to contribute to the other ITDs, thus completing the spectrum of advanced technologies needed for a future regional aircraft. In particular:

  • All Electric Aircraft

  • Advanced avionics architectures for mission and trajectory

  • Interfaces with advanced Propulsion Systems

  • Loads alleviation

  • Technologies and Processes with Low Environmental Impact throughout the Life

Alenia Aeronautica will add value to Clean Sky integrating and testing the most promising technologies using its overall vision of the future end product.

Nonetheless, Clean Sky has clear but limited objectives that are not fully inclusive of all the contents needed for the development of highly competitive future products.

Such additional contents include, for instances,

  • Passenger Comfort and cabin systems (including advanced In Flight Entertainment)

  • Methodologies for simplified, low cost maintenance

  • Reduction of development and production costs (integrated multidisciplinary virtual environment for design, development, testing, configuration management and interface management, manufacturing processes planning …)

  • Low cost Flight Controls architectures

  • Low cost Avionics Architectures

  • Adaptive aircraft configurations

  • Flight in Icing

  • ….

Another element requiring attention is the possibility of radical scenario changes within a limited timeframe: Clean Sky assumes the currently known scenario and any variation will require refocusing, additional resources and a great amount of flexibility.

Regional Aircraft is the segment that, because of market dimension and strategic interest, involves all the Italian aeronautical sector.

For all the above mentioned items, advanced competencies and skills, research centers and production facilities exist in Italy: Alenia Aeronautica has created a network including Universities, Research Centers and suppliers with capabilities both on development and productions; the coverage includes airframe technologies but also propulsion system and avionics and general systems technologies. With the Alenia Aeronautica leadership the whole sector has developed distinctive competencies that are key for future technological evolution of the regional aircraft market, with fall out also for larger classes of aircraft and/or other industrial sectors.

Alenia Aeronautica candidates itself as the European leader for Regional Aircraft, bringing its portfolio of competencies, skills and technologies, of international partnership and of domestic collaborative network.

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