LONDON — Dave Jackson is the Managing Director of Turkey’s TRJ328 Program, which is in charge of developing of TRJ328 twinjet and TRP328 twin turboprop, both launched at last year’s Paris Airshow.

Dave Jackson, Managing Director, TRJ Program. (Credits: PR Newswire)
Dave Jackson, Managing Director, TRJ Program. (Credits: PR Newswire)

Jackson spoke to Airways about the evolution of the TRJ328 program, the response of the market so far and the expectations of the airframer.

Airways: What is the market niche for launching the TRJ328? It’s kind of bringing back the Fairchild Dornier 328 Jet Turboprop and it was not a particularly successful program to begin with.

Dave Jackson: It wasn’t particularly successful because it was the last aircraft to market. The Embraer 120 was there, the SAAB 340, the Jetstream 31 was there. What I meant was that the 328 became the best aircraft in the market, but it arrived too late; it couldn’t be built for that market at that time.

The Fairchild Dornier 328 is a good and viable product. It ended up being the fastest and the safest turboprop, the formula one of them. It’s a masterpiece of German engineering, crafted under the German methodology. It was not launched not till 1993, and by then you had all the other aircraft taking up the market share.

Now, as the other older aircraft are coming to the end of their natural cycle of life, we looked around and we saw that there are about two and a half thousand aircraft operating in this sector, such as the Embraers and Fokkers. Interestingly, nobody is manufacturing this size of aircraft, as manufacturers have moved up. ATR has the smallest type with 46 seats, jumping to Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 with 72.

With the two and half thousand aircraft of this size naturally coming to the end of their lives, and given the upgrade to larger seats from manufacturers, there’s still a market for that type of small aircraft. We don’t expect to make two and a half thousand of these, but we would see a replacement need of about 250, a 10% of the replacement market.

One of the other things we realized is that many of the aircraft types may start out as a regional airliner, but over time they get changed into something else. What we are offering now as a new build in which you can either have the aircraft as a 32-seater or you can have it as a VIP aircraft, medevac or as a true transporter or corporate shuttle.  Our offering is not limited to building a regional aircraft, but a multi-purpose one.

The production line will build a green aircraft and a completion center will install the interior of choice. If some special forces want to have a special mission or search and rescue equipment, we can build it and it can even be transferred to a military site or a site next door.

We believe if we can reach the 250 aircraft mark, the program will be successful. As part of this program, we will be developing the technology and infrastructure in Turkey, so they will be able to develop and build another model.

Where is it going to be built?

It will be built in Ankara.

In Ankara, the final assembly line?

The first five aircraft will be built in Germany in the former production line in order to ease the certification of the aircraft and not to certify the new production line in the first phase. Then we will work to obtain the approval to the new production line in Turkey, which is not yet built. It will be a brand new facility dedicated to the production of the TRJ328.

When is this expected to happen?

We should have a ground breaking ceremony in the next six months, and then it will probably take 18 months to two years to build the facility.

How many airplanes are you expecting to build in Ankara a year? What’s your production?

Probably, about 50 per year.

You’re entering a very important niche. What do you think is going to drive its success?

Let me be very clear, we say it’s a niche market, but we’re not going to be building 10,000 for example. For the niche market, the choice and one of the things we are going to be doing is upgrading the maximum takeoff weight of the turboprop variant to match the max take off weight of the jet, so they’ll be both common in the 15-16,000 kilogram range.

This has a number of technical advantages, as both will now have a common landing gear, and will share a common fuselage and wing.

Is the wing going to be the same?

The wing is exactly the same, just the attachments will change between the prop and the jet. As a result of that we will have a new engine on the turboprop, the PW127 engine.

This new powerplant will allow us to fit extended range tanks for special mission customers, which are now available only in the jet version, this will extend the range of the aircraft, which is essential for search and rescue missions, for example.

In terms of performance which kind of runways will this airplane be able to operate in, short field?

Short field, and it will also have a certified gravel kit for the turboprop variant. It’s been proved that this aircraft may land in just 189 meters, which is impressive.

We are also looking to certify the jet for short field operations. It’s the perfect aircraft when everything else isn’t.

What has been the reception of the market so far?

This is the start. We came out last year in Paris with an initial announcement and during the last year we’ve been working with all the vendors and everybody else. We haven’t really been after the market, as we’ve been trying to establish the supply chain, which is critical in any program.