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Socata Fights Back

Mike Vines   |   1st February 2006
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Socata Fights Back

TBM 850 launched to combat perceived VLJ threat.

Now ‘even faster’ is how EADS SOCATA is marketing its new TBM 850 hot rod. At its launch- Socata’s top brass - in bullish mood - presented the company’s latest offering. 'This aircraft for sale will compete directly with the Very Light Jets (VLJs)- offering jet-like performance with single-engined business turboprop aircraft for sale operating costs-' explained the company. The TBM 850’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D turboprop delivers 1-825eshp but is flat-rated to 850shp- and has been shoe-horned into a same-sized airframe as the TBM 700- giving the aircraft faster climb and a 55 Kt faster cruise speed- than the TBM 700C2- at FL310 in ISA +20 degrees C. These are- 'cruising speeds typical of Light Jets-' according to Socata.

On the ground and during take-off the Socata TBM 850 business turboprops for sale operates as a 700shp aircraft but once airborne and the flaps have been fully retracted the pilot can select the full 850shp available.

A surprise launch announcement was that the TBM 850 achieved EASA certification during November 2005- and is now on the Tarbes production line superceding the TBM 700C2. FAA certification was expected at the time of press. With a base price set at $2-576-930 and a version with typical customer options and equipped for RVSM listed at $2-799-850- first deliveries should have just started by the time you read this feature. TBM production is to be raised to 40 aircraft this year (up from 31 in 2005) as 27 orders have already been received and Socata is confident of more. This 30% increase however will be challenging for Socata and its suppliers according to EADS Socata chairman and CEO Stephane Mayer.

Socata says its secret TBM 850 program was initiated in August 2004 and the first flight of prototype 02 (with PT6A-66D engine) was achieved on February 25- 2005. Test and validation flights (around 103) were made- accruing 162 hours over an eight-month period. Negative G maneuvers and 40 in-flight relights were all part of the intense schedule.

The PT6A-66D engine’s single crystal compressor turbine blades enable higher operating temperatures- and- coupled with a new first stage compressor design- gives the TBM 850 its enhanced high altitude performance.

'Selecting the ‘long range cruise’ power setting in an RVSM-equipped model gives the aircraft enough range to fly direct from Minneapolis to Miami while most VLJs would need to make an intermediate fuel stop-' said Mayer.

'We don’t take that [VLJ] competition lightly-' added Stephane Bernard- Socata’s vice president- Marketing.

Why a new aircraft?

The TBM 850 has been developed for current and potential owners who require better performance than that offered by the TBM 700C2- said a Socata spokesperson. Indeed- Mayer explained it was thought that many TBM owners wouldn’t switch to VLJs if the TBM’s performance could be enhanced - hence the ’850 program was born.

He added that TBM owners had expressed a reluctance to move to VLJs because of their 'higher direct operating costs'. Other reasons expressed included perceived higher insurance costs- the cost of a private jets for sale- extra pilot re-training costs- the unknown factors of new technology risks and reduced payload/range of VLJs compared with the TBM.

Socata believes that insurance costs for lower-hour VLJ pilots are still an open question- but indications from the airplanes for sale market are that the bar could be significantly higher. Socata also says that according to industry specialists- training requirements for lower- hour pilots in twin-jets appear significantly higher than for single engined turboprops.

TBM 850 for sale- in the VLJ world

Having identified its battle with the VLJ- according to Socata range and block-time are key factors in the TBM 850 versus VLJ. It says that for the majority of VLJs- range (fuel capacity) appears to be their greatest design weakness for owner flown missions- and to achieve acceptable range VLJ cruise performance targets may not be met.

Another major issue- according to Socata- is VLJ access to flight levels above FL310 in congested airspace due to their speed mismatch with air-carrier traffic. Socata cites average airliner traffic cruise speed as Mach 0.8 and VLJs anything from Mach 0.59 down to Mach 0.52 to conserve fuel on longer legs.

The Air Transport Association- says Socata- is concerned over the impact of VLJs in ‘Air-Carrier airspace-’ (due to their potential number and low relative speed) and has requested the U.S. Senate to look at new rules and procedures. 'If this occurs'- says Socata- 'it will have a further impact on the useful range of VLJs.'

Socata reckons that on a nominal 500nm leg- the VLJs speed advantage would give operators a seven-minute gain over the ’850- but at 50% higher operating costs. Over a 1-200nm distance- where VLJs have to decrease speed to conserve fuel to make the range- then the TBM 850 would arrive 11 minutes earlier.

The disadvantage of operating any single engined aircraft in the commercial category over most of Europe is that blanket Single Engined-Instrument Flight Rules (SE-IFR) are not allowed. This doesn’t stop the single engined owner/pilot operating in IFR- but it does put Socata- Pilatus- aviation aircraft sales used Cessna airplane for sale (with its Caravan) and New Piper Aircraft for sale at a current disadvantage with the new breed of twin engined VLJs which won’t be affected. The European SE-IFR saga has been ongoing for over a decade- and even EASA hasn’t yet found a way to convince all State representatives to accept this proposal.

The TBM success story

The TBM 700/850s recipe for success- according to Socata- is related to performance- structural integrity and reliability. 95% of customers are owner pilots- and a strong re-sale value is a very big plus. The company says that its establishment of a strong distribution and service network in the recent past has also boosted sales.

When Socata surveyed its current customer base- higher aircraft performance came out as the number one priority. 'We expect a lot of current TBM 700 owners to step up to the 850 version-' said Meyer.

'The owner operator will always be our bread and butter customer- but fractional ownership is another area we want to go after-' admitted Socata. The company is also hopeful that JetFly Aviation of Luxembourg will add the 850 to its all-TBM 700 fractional ownership fleet.

Given the superb slow speed- as well as high speed- handling characteristics of the TBM family- the 850 is also being marketed in the single stretcher Medevac role as well as a specialist freight aircraft- a surveillance platform for Homeland Security- and as an airborne calibration aircraft.

'The TBM 700 for sale series were the fastest aircraft in their class for over 15 years and hold several world records. Speed is the key to our customer’s hearts-' observed Meyer. 'They offered direct operating costs equivalent to- or better than the pressurized twin pistons. Recently this has become more important because of the higher fuel price situation'.

The introduction of the TBM 850 doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the 700C2- says the company. R&D activity continues at Tarbes and there are hints of further derivatives and possibly the re-introduction of the 700C2 with further enhancements. However- the board is adamant that previous TBM 700 models will not be retrofitted with the new PT6A-66D engine.

a brief TBM HISTORY...

The TBM 700 was originally developed in a partnership between Socata (Aerospatiale's General Aviation division at the time) in France- and Mooney in the USA- hence- ‘TB’ represents Tarbes and ‘M’ stands for Mooney. It was formally launched on 12 June 1987 as the two companies formed TBM SA to build and market the aircraft for sale. Development responsibility was split 70/30 respectively and the French Government provided one-third of the development costs. Mooney planned to market the aircraft in North America- while Aerospatiale was to have taken responsibility for the rest of the world sales. Mooney- however- withdrew from the program in May 1990- leaving Socata fully responsible for the aircraft's future.

In fact- the TBM 700’s lineage can be traced back even further to the Mooney ‘MX’- a six-seat- pressurized- single engined aircraft- powered by a 360hp Lycoming TIO-540 piston engine. It was designed by Roy LoPresti- and later designated M.30- with the marketing name M301.

The sole prototype (N301MX) made its first flight on 7 April 1983. This project- however- was later scrubbed because of the tie-up to build the PT6A turboprop powered TBM 700- which was loosely based on some design elements of the M301.

The first of three TBM 700 prototypes flew on July 14 (Bastille Day) 1988. French DGAC certification was granted in January 1990- with FAA FAR Part 23 approval following on 28th August 1990- and delivery of the first production machine on 21st December 1990. The 700B was launched in 1998 and has a large cargo door with optional crew door- and in 2002 came the ’700C2 model with improved payload/range. Since then- and up until the’850 launch- a total of 323 aircraft have been produced: 119 of the A model- 101 of the B model- and 103 of the C model.

TBM 850 STATISTICal run down

Powerplant     P&WC PT6A-66D

Thermodynamic Power     1825 eshp

Nominal Power     850 shp

Usable Fuel Capacity 1-066 liters


Basic Empty Weight 4-762 lbs

MTOW 7-394 lbs

Basic Max Payload 1-270 lbs

Max Payload with Max Fuel 787 lbs

Max Luggage Capacity in storage Areas 275 lbs


Max Cruise Speed at 26-000 ft 320 KTAS

Operating Ceiling 31-000 ft


(ISA conditions- MTOW- No wind- 50 ft obstacle clearance)

Take-Off 2-840 ft

Landing 2-430 ft

Max Range (ISA conditions- MTOW- No wind- 45 min fuel reserve) at long-range cruise speed.

With max payload 1-040nm

With max fuel 1-519nm

At max Cruise Speed

With max payload 945 nm

With max fuel 1-065nm

More information from www.socata.eads.net

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