Towards the end of 1988, Saab officially announced the launch of a new aircraft project. The aircraft was designed using the new CATIA CAD software, indicative of its futuristic capabilities. Though initially intended to be a "stretched" version of the Saab 340, it evolved into a completely different aircraft: the Saab 2000.
The Saab 2000's first flight took place on March 26, 1992, piloted by Eric Sjöberg and Lennart Nordh. Sture Rodling and Anders Bergstrand served as flight test engineers.
"It was the experience of a lifetime for a young test engineer like myself," said Anders, who has now worked at Saab for 25 years. "Opportunities like that are rare, and I feel privileged to have been part of it."
During the flight test period, it became clear that there was a problem resulting from the powerful Allison engines and large, six-bladed Dowty composite propellers. The air flow over the horizontal stabilizer was shown to have a significant impact on the mechanical elevator control system (MECS) and, hence, the stick forces. Several different configurations were tested and shown to improve the issue - but these results still weren't good enough for Saab.
Though the MECS issue caused delays, the Saab 2000 program continued. After achieving certification March 31, 1994, the first six aircraft were delivered to Crossair with the MECS installed. Saab continued to work on the MECS issue and soon found a solution: a hydraulic-powered elevator control system (PECS). The PECS was designed, certified and retro-fitted into the six delivered aircraft, as well as the five aircraft still in production. Crossair and its founder, Moritz Suter, were pleased and named the Saab 2000 “Concordino” because of its fantastic speed. In the end, Crossair took delivery of 34 Saab 2000s over a period of five years.
The production of the Saab 2000 (as well as the Saab 340) ended in 1999, due to the market rapidly shifting over to regional jets. When the poor fuel economics of regional jets was recognized, the market shifted back to turboprops. Unfortunately, it was too late for the Saab 340/2000: production had already ended.
In total, only 63 Saab 2000 were built. Four of these were test aircraft, three of which were never delivered to any customer. The main market was in Europe, though the several U.S. operators flew the Saab 2000 as a corporate or non-commercial aircraft for institutions such as NASCAR and General Motors. In 2016, Saab 2000 was finally certified for passenger traffic in the U.S. This was driven by Alaskan operator PenAir, as they needed a larger, high-performing aircraft to strengthen their already successful Saab 340 fleet. PenAir conducted thorough analysis over several years, and the Saab 2000 came out as the only aircraft capable of handling the harsh Alaskan operational environment. It looks like the Saab 2000 still has a long and healthy life ahead.