Socata Takes On VLJs With Turboprop

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EADS Socata will soon be offering its EASA-certified six-seat TBM 850 for sale in the U.S., the company announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The pressurized single-engine turboprop's performance will compete directly with very light jets (VLJs) while its operating costs will be lower, Socata said in a news release. The TBM 850 is based on the 15-year-old TBM 700 design, but with a more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D engine. It will cruise at a maximum 320 knots at FL260, 20 knots faster than the 700. Deliveries will begin early in 2006, after FAA certification is complete. Base price is set at $2.5 million, which -- in billionaire-speak -- is about where Cessna hopes to tag its Mustang VLJ twinjet and not quite twice the cost of an Eclipse 500. Decisions, decisions. A version of TBM's turboprop with typical customer options and ready for RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) operation will list at $2.8 million. "The TBM 850 is the fruit of our close relationship with TBM customers," said EADS Socata Chairman and CEO Stéphane Mayer. "We listened to their requests to make the fastest aircraft in its class even faster, and the result is the TBM 850 -- which we believe is the ultimate personal aircraft." More than two-thirds of next year's production has already been sold, Mayer said. The TBM 850 offers jet performance and excellent short-field characteristics without the operating costs, transition training and insurance premiums associated with the emerging category of light jets, according to Socata.