Tue, Jul 10, 2012
Many Airlines Shifting To More Efficient, Smaller Aircraft On Some Routes
As some smaller and low-cost airlines look at short-haul domestic routes as a way to boost the bottom line, they're also finding that turboprop airplanes like the Bombardier Q400 and ATR-72 series are a better fit than single-aisle airliners, or even regional jets.
The Wall Street Journal reports that turboprops have been almost double that of regional jets over the past five years globally, driven largely by increases in fuel prices. The way the math works out, airlines can operate a 70 seat turboprop for about the same cost per passenger mile as they can a 50 seat RJ.
Another factor cited by WestJet, a Canadian carrier that flies a large fleet of Q400 aircraft, is that airlines can pay turboprop pilots less than their jet-qualified counterparts.
All of these factors have turboprop manufacturers like ATR in France and Bombardier in Canada ramping up their assembly lines to produce more airplanes. John Moore, head of sales for ATR, told the WSJ that there is a three-year backlog of orders, even when they boost production to seven airplanes a month by 2014. That's a 60% production increase.
The companies are also working to make the airplanes nicer inside for passengers. Philippe Poutissou, vice president for marketing at Bombardier's commercial aircraft unit said that the company is considering a 90-100 passenger version of the Q400, and ATR Chief Executive Filippo Bagnato said a stretched version of the ATR-72 might also make sense for the company.
The move is also sparking an increase in research and development of more efficient turboprop engines. It seems like for the foreseeable future, with fuel prices still unstable and airlines continuing to struggle, that the turboprops are back.
(Photos from file top: Bombardier Q400, bottom: ATR-72-600)
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