High Fuel Prices Boost Propeller Planes

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.

Comments (Showing 4 of 4)

  • Yoshi212 at 7:30pm November 30, 2012

    Why does it start talking about props and then switch to discussing CRJs like they are the same thing?

  • mountainpost at 7:50pm November 30, 2012

    I’m sorry. It switched to CRJs because I made a terrible mistake. I should have kept with the Q series of turboprops made by Bombardier, and not their jet-powered CRJ-aircraft. Please forgive me. The main point stands, however. Turboprops are on the rise.

  • Yoshi212 at 10:06pm November 30, 2012

    Very true. And while I am not a fan of them I do see how they keep frequency and seat availability open. I’d rather have a CRJ-700/900 over a Q-400/CRJ-200 any day of the week. I also had no idea ATR was so large in the market. I flew recently on a SAAB prop and wasn’t all that impressed. The Q-400 is way better.

  • JBEagle1000G at 9:36am December 01, 2012

    I flew on a Q408 from BDL to IAD one evening. It’s a 1hr 20min flight and I was cringing.
    But….in all honesty, the 800 series was NICE prop plane.
    It was fairly quiety with not much prop noise and a clean, modern, comfortable interior.
    And it was nice to be on a Pratt equipped plane for once :)

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