Socata’s speedy TBM 850 takes on VLJ competitors

EBACE Convention News » 2007
May 9, 2007, 9:12 AM

A couple of years ago, the imminent arrival of the new-generation very light jets posed a real threat to EADS Socata’s (Booth No. 1432) TBM 700 family of single turboprops. This specter prompted the company to introduce the more powerful TBM 850 in December 2005. Its strategy seems to be working, with the French manufacturer claiming its new model offers nearly jet speed (320 ktas max cruise), along with very flexible performance characteristics and low operating costs.

Following two years of business stagnation in 2003 and 2004, Socata appears to have turned the corner. Chairman and CEO Stéphane Mayer told EBACE Convention News that prospects for this year are “very promising with sales of 50 TBM 850s within reach.” This optimism is further supported by a record backlog of 42 aircraft and a 19-percent increase in production rates.

The market response to the TBM 850 has prompted Socata to plan for further upgrades, and research is under way into a possible new version of the aircraft that would make extensive use of composites. The company sees the new model as having another five or 10 years’ market life and expects to introduce at least two substantial improvements by 2011–when it will celebrate the centenary of its founding under the name Morane-Saulnier.

Last year, Socata delivered 42 TBM 850s, compared to just 31 TBM 700s and one TBM 700C2 the previous year. At the end of March, it delivered the first German-registered Model 850 to Brose Flugservice, the corporate flight department of the Coburg-based Brose Group, which operates three aircraft, including a TBM 700A. The TBM 850 replaces a TBM 700C1 in its fleet.

Mayer attributed Socata’s growth to the TBM 850’s commercial success, as well as sustained activity in the aerostructures work it does for other manufacturers and significant new customer support contracts. Revenues last year reached ?228 million ($303 million), 21 percent up from the ?188 million ($250 million) recorded in 2005.

Many of Socata’s aircraft are flown by their owners and more than 70 percent of them are based in the U.S., where the first VLJs have now been delivered. “Owner
pilots are attracted by the VLJ’s higher speed and comparable comfort but not its 50-percent higher operating costs and more expensive insurance premiums. And they do not need transition training to operate the 850,” said Mayer. He emphasized that the new development would not have been possible without the input of dozens of private owner flyers and distributors who called for “speed, more speed and even more speed.” These demands were met through the introduction of the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D turboprop engine.

The base price for a TBM 850 is $2,626,910, while the 2007 model with typical customer options and equipped for reduced vertical separation minimum operation lists at $2.85 million. The latest version of the TBM 850, introduced at the NBAA convention last October, features as standard equipment the new high-resolution Garmin GMX 200 multifunction display that integrates a moving map, radar, traffic and terrain into a single display. The display, 20 percent larger than the previous Honeywell IHAS 8000/KMD 850 unit, is designed to improve pilots’ situational awareness and offers a backlighting system that gives more contrast under bright sunlight conditions.

The GMX 200 will offer the options of XM Weather service in the U.S. and ChartView en route and approach charts from Jeppesen. Mayer confirmed that Socata is in discussions to make these options available to customers in Europe.

According to the Socata CEO, the EADS subsidiary’s 2006 results were distinguished by three key factors: a 21-percent revenue increase, a 35-percent rise in deliveries for the new TBM 850 and 13-percent growth in aerostructures activity. This was the second consecutive year-on-year increase in all Socata’s business segments. Profits climbed by 30 percent to reach ?4.2 million ($5.6 million).

“The jump in 2006 revenues and a growing order book that has reached a record ?562 million [$747 million] leaves us with good prospects for 2007 and after,” Mayer stated. He expects a minimum 10-percent growth in overall revenues this year, with a 20-percent increase in Socata’s general aviation business.

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