Continental Motors will obtain FAA certification this year on the first of what the company promises will be a full line of diesel aircraft engines ranging from 150 to 350 horsepower.
"These kinds of commitments allow our customers and our suppliers to know and plan their activities," said Continental CEO Rhett Ross. "We will certify a (diesel engine) this year, and we will be in rate production in the first quarter of 2013.
Continental hasn't announced any launch customers for the three sizes of diesel engines it plans to produce. (Cessna Aircraft chose an SMA diesel engine for the recently announced Turbo 182 NXT.
Continental's first diesel engine will be a turbo-charged 200- to 250-hp model called the TD-300. The TD-450, a 300- to 350-hp version, will go into production in 2015; and a TD-220, a 160- to 180-hp version, will be produced beginning in 2017.
The push into engines designed to burn kerosene-based fuels is driven by the lack of leaded avgas in some international markets and uncertainty about the future of 100LL in the United States, Ross said. At the same time, Continental is moving to address questions about the cost and availability of avgas by certifying low-compression piston engines to run on unleaded auto fuel—even auto fuel that contains ethanol.
"We are not abandoning the higher horsepower engines," Ross said. "We fully desire a drop-in replacement for 100LL--but we're not going to wait for it."
Ross said the United States is a "gasoline country" for piston aircraft and is "likely to remain a gasoline country for many years." But international demand for small aircraft that can operate on jet fuel is increasing, especially in developing countries like India and China. Continental is a subsidiary of AVIC International of China.