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 turboprop to compete for the market against General Electric and Pratt & Whitney Canada.

The study engine, outlined by Snecma Chairman and CEO Pierre Fabre, is targeted at a power range up to around 5,000 shp, far larger than any previous Turbomeca turboprop. If launched, the engine would compete head on with project turboprops already outlined by Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC), the dominant player in the regional market, and GE, which is evaluating a possible commercial spinoff of its recently developed GE38 military turboshaft.

“What happens in the regional jet market and for the emerging new turboprops?” asks Fabre, who was formerly Turbomeca’s CEO. “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” compete. Thus, the two Safran engine makers have launched “advanced product development studies looking into turboprops of 5,000 shp and below.”

The engine would combine elements from the Safran members. As with the even more powerful TP400-D6 turboprop on the Airbus A400M airlifter, Snecma would provide the high-pressure turbine. The compressor could be based on that of the Silvercrest business jet engine, which was designed originally by Turbomeca, Fabre says, adding “Turbomeca has huge experience in certifying compressors and Snecma has a strong history in fixed-wing engine development.”

The combination “captures the spirit of the group without losing focus on what the individual businesses are,” he says.

However Safran’s big turboprop plans, like those of its competitors, remain subject to the indefinite launch plans of the airframe manufacturers. Although Bombardier is remaining relatively quiet about its proposed Q400X future turboprop plans 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 ATR72.

Outside of the traditional western sphere, however, Fabre sees potential new openings for new large turboprops in China, India and Russia. This also could drive the formation of new industrial links between Safran and manufacturers in China. “There is the big question of when will there be a partnership with China — because China will be a huge market — and that’s where the turboprop will be,” Fabre 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. As well as the high-pressure turbine for the TP400-D6 — which Snecma is a partner in alongside 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 feeling increasingly 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.

P&WC, which just shipped components to MTU in advance of the start of advanced compressor rig tests in June for its Next Generation Regional Turboprop (NGRT), 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 2019-2020, P&WC Marketing Vice President Richard Dussault believes the market will be too congested to support a third player in the big commercial turboprop arena.

“Clearly I don’t think there will be three engine makers in the market,” he said. “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.”

Testing of what could represent an important element of the make-up of the nascent Snecma turboprop is scheduled for later this year when the first Silvercrest engine is due to start flight tests. The initial engine will be delivered “at the end of the year,” Fabre says, adding that the evaluation will take place in Texas on a modified Gulfstream 2. Cessna has selected the engine, rated at 11,000 lb. thrust, for the Citation Longitude super midsize business jet, plus another undisclosed application.