Like it or not, fuel-efficient turboprop aircraft are making a comeback. Sky-high-fuel prices make propellers an appealing option for airlines operating regional flights, which is just about all of them.
You don’t see a lot of smiley faces on FT posts when the word turboprop comes up. FT members seem to hate propellers, at least for flights lasting more than an hour-and-a-half. The villains up there reportedly include skull-cringing noise and punch-in-the-stomach turbulence compared to, say, a 737.
But regional flights are growing in number, and distance. Salt Lake City to Chicago on a Bombardier CRJ hardly qualifies as a milk run on a puddle jumper. But it’s happening.
The WSJ reported that over the past five years turboprops (50 – 90 seats) have outsold regional jets two-to-one worldwide. Canada’s WestJetAirlines is opening new routes (under 650 miles) with 45 Bombardier Q400 turboprops (70 – 80 passengers).
French-based ATR, the largest manufacturer of regional aircraft, claim one of their planes takes off every 12 seconds somewhere around the world. They’ve got a three-year backlog of orders. At Bombardier, there’s a production backlog for the CRJ series aircraft. And most of us are intimate with the living area of a SkyWest Embraer Brasilia. Chinese, Russian and South Korean manufacturers all have regional turboprops on their radar. Even Saab is talking about a comeback.
The spinning propellers of the new generation of turboprops are taking these aircraft near the airspeeds of jets. Reliability reports suggest a third-less-fuel-per-passenger cost.
The writing is in the sky. We better got used to more miles on turboprops. Noise-cancelling headphones make for a great stocking stuffer for that FF in your family.