- 09 Jan 2023
- Brian Foley
- BizAv Market Insight
How competitive is the Single-Engine Turboprop market, and how likely are new product launches in the near- to mid-term? René Armas Maes assesses the marketplace...
Recently, the Beechcraft Denali single-engine turboprop made its later-than-anticipated maiden flight. Back in 2016, Textron Aviation announced the Denali (originally under its Cessna division) before realigning it to Beechcraft. Initial deliveries were expected in late 2019 or early 2020.
A single-engine pressurized turboprop which can be flown single-pilot and carry between six and ten passengers, the announcement of a new clean-sheet design was welcome news within a segment that was perhaps in need of some product revitalization.
Based on the number of sales, the most successful aircraft in the Single Engine Turboprop segment is the Pilatus PC-12 platform. According to AMSTAT, more than 1,800 PC-12 variants (including the original PC-12, PC-12 NG and PC-12 NGX) have been delivered since 1994.
Seeking to challenge Pilatus’ leadership within the segment, Textron introduced the Denali to go head-to-head with the PC-12.
SETP Market Overview
With the Denali stepping closer to Single Engine Turboprop (SETP) market entry, is this the right time for it to make an impact?
The first place to look when answering that question is to assess how the segment has been performing in terms of sales over the last few years. By benchmarking aircraft sales, it becomes clear that over time there have only been a few new market entrants, and relatively few clean-sheet product introductions.
According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), sales within the SETP segment (for both pressurized and non-pressurized aircraft) averaged 446 units annually between 2017 and 2021, showing a negative Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of -0.8%.
As of the end of Q3, a total 331 SETP units had been delivered in 2022, meaning at least 115 additional units were needed by year-end to meet the shipment average for 2017-2021. Given that the average Q4 SETP sales (pressurized and non-pressurized) is 152 units during this timeframe, the target seems attainable.
Indeed, typically Q4 SETP sales have averaged 35% of the yearly total between 2017-2021, which is impressive but equally likely to diminish OEM returns owing to Year-End pressure to close sales stimulated by key sales incentives to meet/exceed the OEM’s sales targets.
There are only a small number of aircraft OEMs present in the SETP segment. In the unpressurized multi-seat segment, Textron (Cessna) and Daher Kodiak are the key players with their Caravan and Kodiak 100, respectively.
In the pressurized segment there are four major OEMs (soon to be five with the Textron’s Beechcraft Denali), including Epic, Daher TBM, Pilatus and Piper.
Table A details shipments between 2017 and 2021 for these four key players, and includes their average CAGR within the segment. Note: Table A excludes shipments of the Piper M500.
Table A: Single-Engine Turboprop OEM Shipments
Direct Operating Costs: Fuel DOC per Seat vs. Range
Following, we will focus on the top-of-the-line products of the leading pressurized Single-Engine Turboprop OEMs, including the Pilatus PC-12 NGX, Daher TBM 960, Piper M600/SLS, Epic 1000GX, and upcoming Beechcraft Denali. Table B highlights their key specifications.
Table B: In-Production Single-Engine Turboprop Specifications
To make an apples-to-apples comparison, based on hourly fuel consumption, the fuel cost per seat for each featured SETP model is assumed to cost US$7.5/gallon. Excluded from the calculation is maintenance/engine cost, and miscellaneous trip expenses.
In terms of the fuel cost per seat – or how much it will cost to operate a pressurized SETP, based on the number of seats available in a high-density configuration and the fuel consumption per hour, Chart A shows that the Piper M600/SLS offers the lowest fuel cost per hour/seat among the 1 (pilot) + 5 seats grouping, while the Beechcraft Denali offers the lower cost in the 1 (pilot) + 10 seats group.
Nevertheless, the Epic 1000 GX offers 10% more cabin volume (cu.ft.) than the Piper M600/SLS, while the Pilatus PC-12 NGX offers a shorter balanced field length and higher Long Range Cruise speed than the Beechcraft Denali, at least as currently advertised by Beechcraft.
Chart A: Single-Engine Turboprop Direct Operating Cost - Fuel per Seat vs Range
As mentioned, the Denali will compete at the same end of the market that the Pilatus PC-12 has previously enjoyed all to itself. Together, Beechcraft and Pilatus will compete for customers seeking a logical move-up model. (In the case of the Denali, Textron will be hoping some of its Cessna Caravan customers will opt for brand loyalty when seeking a larger, more powerful pressurized aircraft).
For the same reason, Beechcraft’s Denali could be the go-to model for King Air owners seeking to downsize from their existing twin-engine turboprops in favor of a high-performance Single-Engine Turboprop offering the advantage of lower fuel consumption/operating costs.
However, it’s important to remember that the proven track-record of the Pilatus PC-12 will prove as attractive as brand loyalty in many owner/operators’ decision-making.
SETP Productivity Index
In Chart B, we have produced a productivity index for the featured aircraft in our SETP analysis. The productivity index multiplies aircraft range (with NBAA reserves, and in a high-density seating configuration), cabin volume, and speed, and divides the result by 1,000,000,000.
Chart B: Single-Engine Turboprop Productivity Index
As shown, in the 1 (pilot) + 10 seats grouping, the Pilatus PC-12 NGX offers the highest productivity index rating of 0.17, closely followed by the Denali at 0.15. In the 1 (pilot) + 5 seats grouping, the Epic 1000 GX offers the highest productivity among its peer group, but the Piper M600/SLS is very attractively priced despite its slightly lower productivity rating.
When considering investments in potential new models within the single-engine pressurized turboprop segment, investors look at the relative health of the market (in terms of aircraft shipments, new prospects, new potential platform usage (medevac, FIR, surveillance, border control, and more), advancements in technology (engine efficiency, lighter airframe structures, etc.), and the likelihood of a return on investment).
Low single-digit CAGR sales over the last five years suggest the SETP market is unlikely to see any new entrants in the near- to mid-term future, beyond the Denali.
Perhaps this explains why Cirrus chose to develop a jet as a step-up from its piston aircraft products, bypassing the single-engine pressurized turboprop segment altogether.
Ultimately, the pressurized single-engine turboprop market is a relatively crowded space, and it’s difficult for newcomers to compete effectively with some strongly established brands already occupying the sector. That’s one of the things that makes Epic’s market entry even more remarkable.
Read more articles in this series: