LONDON —  Bombardier Aerospace publicly launched a cargo-passenger combination (combi) version of their popular Q400 turboprop on Tuesday at the Farnborough Airshow. The cargo-passenger combi Q400 NextGen aircraft will seat 50 passengers and offer up to 1,150 cubic feet of cargo volume, allowing for cargo capacity of 8,200 lbs.

Bombardier announced the new optionality for the Q400 alongside a slew of smaller orders for the turboprop, of which 499 examples have been ordered to date. Bombardier do not yet have a firm launch customer, however executives at the show stated that Bombardier is in an “advanced” stage of negotiations with several different potential launch customers.

Sources within the industry confirm that Bombardier is at the very least, likely 2-3 months away from being able to announce an initial customer.

At a sideline interview conducted after the public launch of the Combi, Simon Roberts, Vice President and General Manager of Turboprops and Toronto Operations for Bombardier noted that the Combi was a natural addition to the optionality currently available on the Q400.

“It’s [The Q400 Combi is] a manifestation of the versatility of the Q400,” said Mr. Roberts, who also noted that in addition to a base, 78 seat single-class configuration, the Q400 also offers a two-class configuration (seating between 67 and 74 passengers), a high capacity configuration (seating 86 passengers), and now a cargo combi configuration.

The new option is designed to help airlines operating in regions with middling passenger demand and strong freight traffic. “It [The Q400 Combi] offers the optimum balance of passenger comfort and also very large payload capacity,” opined Mr. Roberts, “[And] [w]hat that allows is [for] an airline to optimize their revenue, both in terms of payload and freight, and also passengers.”

While this might point towards Africa as a strong market for the Q400 Combi given that region’s lack of adequate surface transport for freight, combined with lower passenger demand in the developed world, Mr. Roberts downplayed talk of Africa as a core market for the type, opting for a broader outlook.

“Regions that need to find that sweet spot, in terms of balancing the need for passengers and cargo, I think is exactly where the cargo combi will play a critical role. We have flexibility as well in terms of configuration. So we can adapt to certain specifications; the size of the payload and also the passenger configuration as well.”

While the Q400 is operated by four different African Airlines, its higher purchase price might hold back sales in the region. Africa’s nascent airline industry still suffers from a lack of access to capital, and rival ATR offer a cheaper, if less capable option in the ATR 72.

In addition to organic appeal, the Q400 Combi will allow Bombardier to finally play a role in replacement of 50-seat Dash 8 Q300s and ATR 42-300/500s with a new generation aircraft, a market which had previously been closed off to Bombardier. Rival ATR offer the next-generation ATR 42-600, which just won an order for 25 aircraft (plus 50 purchase options) from large ATR customer Nordic Aviation Capital.

“One of the panelists at the event [public launch] expressed his desire to see the Q300 brought back into production,” noted Mr. Roberts, “He said that after today he received his briefing on the Q400 Combi, what he realizes now is that you basically have that flexibility within one aircraft. So [the right aircraft] where the routes are thin in terms of passenger travel, and particularly to regions that require essential services and are difficult to access by conventional transportation sources.”

However, Mr. Roberts was careful to note that the Q400 Combi’s capabilities extend far beyond those of a mere Q300 replacement.

“If offers more than that [a Q300 replacement]… it offers the passenger capacity around 50 passengers. I think it’s…. the perfect balance to meet the needs of your business model, not to compromise your business model because of the limitations of your aircraft.”

Cargo-passenger combination aircraft have grown out of favor (especially at larger sizes) due in part to increasingly stringent regulations about the strength requirements for separation of cargo and passenger sections. But Mr. Roberts says that Bombardier has designed the Q400 Combi to meet and surpass the most stringent of such requirements.

“This [the Q400 Combi] meets Class C requirements for payload and freight transportation, so of course in our development, that was at the forefront of our requirements for the development of all Combi. It’s the only in-production solution for a turboprop Combi.”