More Big Turboprop News

About a week after Diamond announced their new 7-place turboprop, a couple other aircraft companies made splashes in the media with aircraft in or near the DA50-JP7s class.

Piper announced three new models, grouped together as the "M-Class." There aren't a lot of specifics yet, but the M350, M500 and M600 appear to be an update and rebranding of Piper's current 6-place cabin class aircraft, the Matrix, Mirage and Meridian. Using just basic info from their website, the only difference between the Meridian and M500 or the Mirage and M350 are about $50,000 in each case.

The other company in the news was a much bigger surprise for me. It seems that Cirrus co-founder and visionary Alan Klapmeier has merged his project to develop and produce a turboprop single called the Kestrel with the company that produces the Eclipse 550. The new company is being called One Aviation. The Eclipse has had a rough history, but appears to have emerged successfully. After a disappointing debut followed by bankruptcy, the new Eclipse got back on its feet and has been producing and supporting aircraft. Klapmeier left Cirrus in part over frustrations with trying to bring the Cirrus Vision Jet to market. His design for the Kestrel is based on one also used for a kit aircraft offered by Epic. In my opinion, it's a better step-up for the thousands of Cirrus SR22 owners out there than the Cirrus Jet will be.

I haven't heard a peep about the Kestrel in years, and I imagine that it's very advantageous to pair it with the Eclipse 550...a completely new design supported by a business model that seems to be succeeding. I hope the pairing will help finally get the Kestrel to market. The partnership also makes a lot of sense given that the Kestrel is the perfect step-up for an SR22 (or Cessna TTx) owner. The Eclipse 550 could potentially be a step-up from either an SR22 or a Kestrel, depending on your mission, requirements and budget. Given Klapmeier's success with Cirrus, I'm excited to see what One Aviation will achieve.

The Kestrel (and Eclipse) show me that there is in fact still room in the turboprop single market for more competition. (I'd say the Pilatus PC-12, Socata TBM-900 and Cessna C-208 dominate that segment right now.) The Kestrel should be able to match the speed of the TBM-900, but may offer a bit more of the roominess available with the Pilatus or the Cessna.

I haven't always associated the Piper turboprop singles with this class. They seem like more conventional aircraft from a more conventional company...just natural evolutions in the line from Cherokee to Arrow to Saratoga. However, I'm happy to see that, at least with the M600, Piper is emphasizing innovation. The plane is supposed to have a completely redesigned wing, new styling and boasts the Garmin G3000 avionics suite. Garmin has several degrees of updates to their venerable G1000. None of them have taken hold like the G1000 did, but maybe Piper's gamble with the G3000 will be the break that both they and Garmin are looking for. The M-Class aircraft have pretty hefty prices and may not qualify as "cheap" alternatives to the Kestrel or Diamond DA50-JP7, but I think they're definitely still competitors in that market. It's also convenient that Piper has options for piston or turboprop aircraft with and without pressurization. That gives someone looking to step up a lot of options. There could be owners/pilots out there who are very comfortable with an unpressurized 4-place piston single who want to get something bigger and faster, but aren't interested in the increased complexity associated with turboprops or new systems. Piper's strategy of having many choices there may be good.

That said, I've heard that most factory aircraft come with most of the options that a factory offers. If you're going to invest in something as expensive as a million dollar aircraft, maybe it makes sense to pull out all the stops. If that's the case, I'd expect Piper to sell a lot more M600s than M500s or M350s. I'd also expect to see the Kestrel and TBM-900 compete very strongly in that market.

Bottom line, more competition and more options are great news for pilots and owners. Companies are innovating and those of us who love aviation are going to enjoy flying...or even just gawking at all the new toys.