ANKARA — Turkey has committed to buying 50 TRJet aircraft, the planned dual-use future regional jet that will be developed in country, based on the Dornier 328 and 628 aircraft. But the program may be much bigger than that.

The program envisages the eventual production of four models of the aircraft — a jet (TRJ-328) and a turboprop (TR-328) with 32 seats, and a jet (TRJ-628) and a turboprop (TR-628) with 60 to 70 seats.

"The market we see is 500 to 1,000 aircraft for the [TRJ-328] alone," said Cem Ugur, general manager for Esen System Integration, Turkish affiliate of US-based Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), which is working jointly with Turkish company STM on the TRJet. "The market for the [TRJ-628] will be similar."

The regional jet program will be run by Turkey's defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM). Procurement officials say TRJet is one of SSM chief Ismail Demir's "signature projects."

ANKARA — In May, Turkey selected Dornier to provide primary base models for its future regional jet program. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that both the regional jet and an indigenous jet Turkey plans to build would be in the air by 2023, the country's centenary.

Turkey acquired intellectual property rights for the Dornier 328 and Dornier 628 from US-based Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), which later . Subsequently, the US company signed a memorandum of understanding with Ankara-based STM, the Turkish a state-controlled defense technologies company, for joint work on the regional jet program — a program designed to meet both Turkey’s civilian and military requirements, according to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said. In May, Davutoglu pledged that the regional jet and a planned indigenous jet both would be in the air by 2023, the country's centenary.

Turkey already has committed to buy 50 of the TRJ-328 and TRJ-628, the planned Turkish versions of the Dornier aircraft. But the program may be much bigger than that.

The regional jet program will be run by Turkey's defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM). Procurement officials say TRJet is one of SSM chief Ismail Demir's "signature projects."

Under the program, STM will lead and coordinate all subsystem production work. Designated local subcontractors are Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries, Tusas Turkish Engine Industries, military electronics specialist Aselsan, military software specialist Havelsan, private aviation companies Alp Havacilik and Kale Havacilik, and THY Teknik, Turkey's national carrier Turkish Airlines' maintenance and repairs subsidiary.

The program envisages the eventual production of four models of the aircraft — a jet (TRJ-328) and a turboprop (TR-328) with 32 seats, and a jet (TRJ-628) and a turboprop (TR-628) with 60 to 70 seats.

"The market we see is 500 to 1,000 aircraft for the [TRJ-328] alone," said Cem Ugur, general manager for Esen System Integration, SNC's Turkish affiliate. "The market for the [TRJ-628] will be similar."

SNC’s Esen supported TRJet during foundation the program's founding and initial tasks to get itthe program started. It now defines its mission for the planned Turkish jet as "to get civil aviation authorities’ approvals, match international quality, performance and cost targets and propose an avionic component for the 628 in line with the spirit of the program," said a source with TRJet, the umbrella entity that brings together the program's engineering, government and corporate stakeholders. Esen also will act as a local supplier to the program.

The modernization of the TRJ-328 will be performed by the German, US and Turkish engineers. The first five aircraft will be manufactured in Germany for EASA certification purposes. The remaining 45 of the initial batch of 50 and beyond will be produced in Turkey. The TRJ-628 will be completely designed in Turkey "with the DNA from the 628," the TRJet source said.

"In order to make an aircraft successful on the worldwide market one needs to have EASA or FAA certification," Ugur said. "Russian Antonov and Chinese Comac have largely failed because of the absence of these certifications. Leveraging our German company's [328SSG, an SNC subsidiary] heritage to get certification is critical for the success of the program," 

Any modifications for different configurations, including military, will be performed in Turkey. The company expects the military and intelligence configurations to be the later-comer orders. Those configurations do not change the base aircraft configuration.

"The initial order we get from the Turkish government will be critical to initiate the program," Ugur said. "The feasibility of the program depends on our success to establish a global/local supplier chain. We want to place orders to our suppliers based on a minimum 50 aircraft so that they are motivated and prepared to give us competitive prices to build a worldwide competitive aircraft. In this sense, the initial order can be any mixture of civilian and military configuration. On the other hand, we really count on Turkish military orders."

One Turkish Air Force officer admitted relative hesitation at this early stage of the program, but . But he said: "aAs certification plans develop we will know more about how many we will require," he said. "This is a good aircraft that can be used in many different missions."

Procurement officials say the military versions would be used as ambulance aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, VIP aircraft, transport aircraft and for intelligence missions.

Ugur said that there are about 5,000 aging aircraft of this size in the world getting old without any plan for replacement in the world that will need replacing soon.

"This is a big market and, presently, we don't have competition," he said. "All big original equipment manufacturers are after large aircraft markets. Countries with smaller cities, smaller airports need such aircraft for regional transportation, like Russia, Pakistan, India and parts of Africa. There are many airports that do not operate due to non-feasible operations of large aircraft."

One aviation expert here said that certain features of the TRJet, aircraft’s certain features like its ability to landing to and take off from short, unpaved runways, could make it attractive for military, security and intelligence missions.

Esen plans to open its hangar and design office in October and to deliver the first TRJ-328 in 2019, with . It plans to complete all initial deliveries completed in three to four years. Simultaneously, it will start designing work for the TRJ-628, aiming to have the aircraft make its first flight in 2023.