Saab's experience with the S340 commuter airliner turned its attention to the future needs of regional and 'feeder' carriers. Having forged a market with its smaller aircraft, Saab used the S340 as a baseline from which to develop a new, high-speed turboprop airliner which was to be called the Saab 2000, with a max payload of 5900 kg or up to 2 crew and 58 passengers. The go-ahead came with a launch order from Moritz Suter's Crossair, already a firm Saab customer, which signed for 25 aircraft with a further 25 on option, on 15 December 1988.
By late 1989 project definition for the Saab 2000 had been completed, with the contracting out of major portions of the aircraft's construction. CASA of Spain was responsible for the wing design and production, though Saab defined the basic airfoil structure. Valmet of Finland was to build the entire tail unit and elevators, while in England, Westland is responsible for the rear fuselage. For the cockpit, a Collins Proline 4 avionics suite was selected, while a radical reduction in cabin noise levels over existing aircraft was also promised. The concept of 'hub bypass' was central to Saab's sales efforts for the aircraft. To achieve this, Saab planned to build an aircraft capable of 665km/h over a 1850km sector, a speed comparable with the BAe 146 (Avro RJ). A jet-like climb performance was also essential, with figures of 0-6096m in less than 11 minutes assured. The original choice of engine fell between General Electric's GE38, then under development for the US Navy's projected LRAACA maritime patrol aircraft, and the Pratt & Whitney PW300 turbofan. In the event, and in conjunction with Crossair, Saab opted for the Allison GMA 2100 turboprop, driving six-bladed, low-noise Dowty propellers. As part of the deal Allison was contracted to build the engine nacelles.
Production of the first prototype began at Linkoping in February 1990. Several European aerospace firms participated in the Saab 2000 manufacturing program including CASA, Westland and Valmet of Finland.
The prototype's (SE-001) maiden flight occurred on 26 March 1992. A four-aircraft test programme was established with aircraft No. 2 (SE-002) involved in stability and control certification. Much of the high-temperature and adverse weather flying was undertaken by the No. 2 Saab 2000, which completed two visits to Spain. The first full production-standard aircraft was SE-003, with which all the systems certification was achieved, only the autopilot certification being outstanding in mid-1993. Certification in Europe was granted in March 1994 and by the FAA in April 1994. Functional reliability flights were undertaken by aircraft No.4 (SE-004), as part of the ongoing test programme which exceeded 1,200 hours across the fleet.
All Saab's performance guarantees have been met or exceeded. Take-off and landing distances were bettered by 100-200m. Time from brake release to 6096m is less than eight minutes, and in proving this the Saab 2000 easily broke the existing time-to-climb record for an aircraft in its class (previously held by a Grumman E-2 at 10 minutes). Range and weights have all been better than expected on the production standard aircraft, and the promised cruise speed of 665km/h at 8534m is, on average, 15km/h better. In a dive the Saab 2000 has reached 794km/h with no ill effects. International noise requirements have been bettered by 9.1 decibels.
The fuselage diameter is 91 inches, allowing for a single row of passenger seats on the left side and double row on the right. The gear up limiting speed is 175 kt, with extension being 220 kts and a cruise speed of over 665km/h.
Reducing cabin noise was a cornerstone of the Saab 2000 design philosophy and Saab has developed a so-far unique anti-noise system that has been test flown on a Saab 340, ready for inclusion on its larger sibling. This involves a series of microphones, located around the interior, which monitor cabin noise and then re-broadcast an equal opposite; wave, thus effectively 'switching off' background noise and vibration.
August 1994 saw the first delivery to Crossair and September 1994 the first revenue service.
Saab originally foresaw a market for 1,400 new 40- to 50-seat regional airliners by the end of the century, and sales of 400 Saab 2000s were anticipated. While the manufacturer held well over 100 paid options, only 36 firm orders had been received by July 1993. The seventh aircraft and the first for Deutsche BA (formerly Delta Air) flew on 24 June 1993.
Lack of sales and profitability forced Saab to cease the 2000 production with just 63 aircraft built. The last SAAB 2000 was delivered to Crossair in April 1999.
Engines: 2 x Allison AE2100A turboprop, 4152 shp / 3096kW
Props: Dowty 6 blade
Wingspan: 24.76 m / 81 ft 3 in
Length: 27.03 m / 89 ft 8 in
Height: 7.73 m / 25 ft 4 in
Max take-off weight: 22000 kg / 48502 lb
Loaded weight: 13500 kg / 29763 lb
Max. speed: 680 km/h / 423 mph
Cruise: 360 kt
Ceiling: 9450 m / 31000 ft
Range w/max.payload: 2557 km / 1589 miles
Pax cap: 50-58