Twin-Engine Turboprop Market Update

How competitive is the Twin-Engine Turboprop market, and how likely are new product launches in the near- to mid-term? René Armas Maes assesses the marketplace…

René Armas Maes  |  30th January 2023
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    René Armas Maes
    René Armas Maes

    René Armas Maes, Vice President, Commercial, Jet Link International LLC, is an international...

    Beechcraft King Air 260 twin-engine turboprop taxis to the runway

    Currently, the Twin-Engine Turboprop segment is comprised of Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft unit and Piaggio.

    Beechcraft builds the King Air 260 and King Air 360/ER, while Piaggio produces the Avanti EVO. Beechcraft has built an extraordinary number of King Airs over the years since introducing the King Air 90 and has delivered more than 7,700 King Air series aircraft to customers around the world.

    By comparison Piaggio has been involved in this market since the 1980s when it introduced the Piaggio P.180 Avanti. Over the years, the Italian OEM has produced two upgraded versions and several hundred units of its eye-catching aircraft.

    There are five features that Twin-Engine Turboprop owners tend to love about their aircraft. These are 1) their ability to operate out of short, unpaved runways, 2) cabin comfort, 3) low operating costs, 4) maximum take-off weight performance, and 5) the ability to transport bulky equipment without exceeding weight and balance envelope issues.

    Table A: Twin-Engine Turboprop OEM Shipments

    Twin-Engine Turboprop Market Overview

    One of the big questions is whether there’s room for another OEM to enter the Twin-Engine Turboprop market and compete with Beechcraft and Piaggio. This is a market that has seen no new entrants or clean sheet designs for some time. Is anybody likely to be tempted to launch a new model in this segment in the near-to mid-term? To answer this, we need to assess how the segment has been performing in terms of sales over recent years.

    According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), sales within the Twin-Engine Turboprop segment averaged 83 units annually between 2017 and 2021, showing a negative Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of -3.9% (see Table A above).

    As of the end of Q3 2022, a total of 49 units (48 Beechcraft King Airs 260s and King Air 360/ERs versus a single Piaggio Avanti EVO unit) were delivered, meaning Q4 would need to see 34 additional units in order for 2022 to meet the shipment average of 83 aircraft recorded between 2017 to 2021.

    This target appears to be attainable since Textron’s King Air series has averaged 31 deliveries in Q4 during this period. However, a deeper analysis indicates a deacceleration in sales of both King Air and Avanti aircraft since the peak of 2018.

    Table B: Beech King Air 260 vs Piaggio Avanti EVO Performance & Specifications

    Direct Operating Costs: Fuel DOC per Seat vs. Range

    Following, we will focus on the iconic, best-selling Beechcraft King Air 200 platform (today produced as the King Air 260) and compare it with the Piaggio Avanti EVO. Table B (above) highlights their key specifications.

    To make an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison based on hourly fuel consumption, the fuel cost per seat for each featured twin-engine turboprop model is assumed to be $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 twin-engine turboprop, based on the number of seats available in a high-density configuration and the fuel consumption per hour, Chart A (below) shows that the King Air 260 offers the lowest fuel cost per hour/seat in comparison to the Piaggio Avanti EVO.

    Chart A: Twin-Engine Turboprop Direct Operating Cost per Seat versus Range

    The difference in cost is 27%. Textron Aviation has continuously updated its King Air 200 product over the decades, increasing passenger capacity and baggage volume, among other things. Today’s King Air 260 offers an enhanced payload option allowing it to operate in the commuter category with a gross take-off weight of 13,420lbs. (That’s an additional 920lbs above its standard 12,500lbs option.)

    But the Piaggio Avanti has seen developments over the years, too, and the EVO model offers an increased range of 1,809nm, which is 18% greater than that offered by the Avanti II which preceded it. Moreover, the Avanti EVO has an operating altitude akin to a jet (41,000ft, versus 35,000ft for the King Air 260). Its maximum cruise speed, at 402kts, is also jet-like. (The King Air 260 offers a high cruise speed of 310kts.)

    Twin-Engine Turboprop Balanced Field Length

    Balanced Field Length (BFL) is the shortest runway length that complies with safety regulations for a given aircraft weight, engine thrust, aircraft configuration, and runway condition.

     Chart B: Balanced Field Length Performance versus Range

    As shown in Chart B (left), the Beechcraft King Air 260 offers better BFL performance and comparable range than the Piaggio Avanti EVO. Each engine of the Piaggio Avanti EVO produces almost twice more horsepower than those of the King Air 260, and it is this that gives the aircraft its jet-like performance.

    But greater speed comes with extra cost, both in terms of acquisition and operating costs when the EVO is compared to the King Air 260. Nevertheless, relative to Light Jets, the fuel consumption, operating cost, and purchase price of the Avanti EVO remains lower.

    Despite lacklustre sales for new aircraft between 2017 and 2022 we should not count Piaggio out of the Twin-Engine Turboprop market yet. Piaggio received new orders last year, and this model offers an interesting option to those seeking to find a bridge between traditional Twin-Engine Turboprop performance and Light Jet ownership.

    Prospects for New Market Entrants

    So, what are the chances of OEMs introducing potential new models in the Twin-Engine Turboprop arena? Lower sales numbers from Beechcraft, and a negative CAGR over the last five years would suggest the Twin-Engine Turboprop market is unlikely to see any new entrants in the near-to mid-term, beyond the more usual upgrades seen within this segment to existing models.

    This market is a relatively uncrowded space, but it would be difficult for newcomers to compete effectively with a brand as strongly established as Beechcraft.

    That reason could explain why Cirrus and Pilatus chose to focus on the Entry Level and Light Jet markets, respectively, when they sought to upscale their product-lines, bypassing this market.

    Ultimately, the Twin-Engine Turboprop market tends to appeal to a wide variety of end-users, including private, corporate, commuter, air ambulance, military, and multi-mission aircraft. Though uncrowded in terms of OEMs and in-production models, the GAMA shipment numbers suggest that there is little room for additional products at this time.

    Read more in this series, including:

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    René Armas Maes

    René Armas Maes

    Editor, Buyer Strategy & Finance

    René Armas Maes, Vice President, Commercial, Jet Link International LLC, is an international aviation consultant and experienced C-Level professional. He has built a successful track record for developing and delivering Business Aviation strategies for Fortune 500 companies, Venture Capital firms, and HNWIs.

    René is a regular columnist for Bloomberg (financial), America Economia (business) and a speaker at aviation conferences worldwide.



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