Sierra Nevada breathes life into D328, determined to make it fly again, and evolve

  • 16-Jun-2015 04:14 EDT
New TRJ628 rendering- Photo Credit Lorbi.jpg

Artist's rendering of the 628. According to TRJet, while aircraft development typically requires 12-14 years from inception to completion, this project starts from a better position due to the existing certified and globally operational  aircraft from which the aircraft is being modeled. (Lorbi)

Some 10 years since being out of production (some might say even nearly 15 years if one considers the demise of the plane’s originator), the Dornier 328, known for its ability to function on “unimproved runways” and “being easy to maintain in third-world countries,” is going back into production under at least the partial guidance of Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), which Tuesday at the Paris Air Show announced the formation of its newest wholly owned subsidiary, TRJet Havacilik Teknolojileri Anonim Şirketi (TRJet, for short). The announcement follows SNC’s May 2015 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding involving the Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.S. (STM) in support of the Turkish Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs & Communications to produce the country’s first regional jet as part of its Regional Aircraft Project.

A Turkish corporation, TRJet will be based in Ankara, Turkey—chosen over Istanbul mainly due to existing infrastructure, SNC President Eren Ozmen said Tuesday—and will serve the Regional Aircraft Project as well as the commercial aviation sector. TRJet will combine the legacy of SNC and 328 Support Services GmbH (328 SSG), to create “an aviation and aerospace company that merges modern-edge German aircraft engineering and the latest industry modification standards.”

The newly launched Regional Aircraft Project will use the TRJ328 aircraft, a modernized version of the 32-seat D328, as a first-step toward production of Turkey’s first domestically built passenger aircraft, the 50-70 seat TRJ628. The 328’s reputation not only lies in the commercial arena, but special ops as well for civil and military applications, and the 628 may earn that reputation as well, but it is first anticipated as an entry into the commercial market.

“We believe that the combination of technology, research, collaboration, and decades of experience is the right recipe for TRJet’s future success in Turkey and around the globe,” said Ozmen. “We are confident that the commitment and support of those involved in the Turkish Regional Aircraft Project, will be successful in producing aircraft that changes the face of transportation in Turkey.”

328 SSG has held the type certificate on the high-wing 328 since 2006, but has not resumed production, focusing instead on MRO for the 328JET and 328 turboprop. On the re-launch of production, Dave Jackson, Managing Director, 328 SSG, emphasized that the company is “not looking to create cutting-edge technologies. Instead, the re-launch of the 328 is designed to be a stepping stone to familiarize Turkish engineers with the aircraft’s workings prior to design of the 628.”

To start, Jackson said two to three 328s will be manufactured in Germany for recertification and then their production will move to Turkey, with most of the original suppliers for continuity, though some contracts may be re-assessed and/or reassigned.

At various times in Paris, Jackson referred to the 328 as a “stepping stone,” a “training vehicle,” and as a “learning curve” toward the ultimate 628 goal. That said, by no accounts do the jet and turboprop 328 versions seem to be the ugly duckling sibling of the same versions for the 628, but, instead, strong shoulders upon which to technologically advance and provide Turkish engineers the ultimate in professional development, and while the aircraft engineers may not “create” cutting-edge technologies, that is not to say that they won’t make the best of cutting-edge technologies already in the marketplace.

For example in terms of the 328JET, it is expected to include a glass cockpit and updated systems suitable both for today's and future ATM environments, an upgraded modern interior with LED lighting and new seats, and a full-height cabin.

It is estimated that up to 500 people are needed to work in the factory to build the aircraft, which will also employ significant numbers of the Turkish population via indirect employment opportunities. The 328 is currently certified in 85 countries around the world, and is in use in many countries including the U.S., Switzerland, Germany, U.K., and Denmark. TRJet believes that there is an increasing demand around the world for an aircraft such as the 328 with this passenger capacity.

“The [328] fills a niche market for direct and frequent flights between small cities in the country that is currently not feasible using larger airplanes,” said Ozmen. “According to market analysis, the aircraft is expected to meet a large demand for both domestic and international [needs].”

TRJet will ultimately produce and sell the TRJ328 and “will play an essential role in making Turkey’s first indigenous passenger aircraft [the TRJ628] a reality,” said Jackson. “The TRJ628 will be built on the DNA of the 328.” And, ultimately, the 628 will be locally designed, engineered, and manufactured in Turkey, and it is expected that engineers will be able to leverage the built-in supply chain of the 328, even though it hasn’t been in production for some years.

Launch funding was enabled by the Turkish government ordering 50 planes, but ultimately, TRJet is fully commercial and “will have to live or die by selling airplanes,” said Jackson.

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