SAO PAULO, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA is considering the development of a new turboprop passenger plane, the company said on Thursday, potentially returning to a segment dominated by the Franco-Italian ATR and Canada's Bombardier Inc.
Embraer, the world's third-largest commercial planemaker, said it recently consulted with airlines about "potential opportunities in the turboprop market," but added any decision was far off.
The idea represents a possible sharp reversal for a company that tailed off making turboprops in the 1990s to focus on regional jets — a segment it now leads globally, generating just over half of its revenue.
"It is important to emphasize that Embraer is far from any decision to launch a new turboprop program and the process is in the evaluation phase," the company said in an emailed statement. "This is an early, but key step, in establishing if there is a business case for a modern turboprop platform."
Embraer took a similar stance earlier this decade, but chose to hold back. The company will roll out the next generation of its commercial E-Jet lineup in the next few years, freeing up research and development resources for a new family of products.
Between Bombardier's Q400 and the market-leading ATR, co-owned by Airbus SE and Leonardo SpA, there are about 100 turboprop airliners made each year.
Embraer's head of commercial aviation, John Slattery, told the Aviation Club in London that existing passenger turboprops were "decades old," creating an opening for an entrant with a new airframe and engines, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news on Thursday.
ATR Chief Executive Christian Scherer told reporters in Paris on Wednesday there was limited room in the market for a third Western turboprop manufacturer. Demand was strong in Asia and Latin America and picking up in the United States, he said. (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Peter Cooney)