In the 1950s and in the early 1960s, jets were mostly available as fighter/military or big, long haul aircraft. Regional aviation was based primarily on piston aircraft that could operate in smaller airports. When planes like the Boeing 727 and 737, Douglas DC-9 and Hawker Siddeley Trident came out, they finally brought the jet era to the regional aviation. But still, they were loud and inefficient. That's where the turboprops come in: they perform better than pistons and are suitable for small airports; they don't go as fast as jets, but are usually cheaper to maintain.

Given all that, most regional airlines started to use turboprops for their city links.

In the recent years, however, jet engines are getting quieter, more efficient and powerful. Embraer's Regional Jets and E-jets are out there; more recently, we've seen Bombardier releasing their CSeries and Embraer selling the first E2 units. Even though these planes are highly efficient, fast and suitable for short runways, airlines from countries like Brazil, Indonesia and India are still using turboprops as almost the entirety of their regional fleets. The development of modern planes like the ATR72-600 and the Bombardier Q400 shows how high the interest from airlines is.

The question is, what could be the cause of such preference? Why don't airlines prefer regional jets over turboprops, given their efficiency and speed and considering the tendency people have to "fear" propeller planes as old and untrustworthy?

Speaking of numbers, what would be financially better for a company: flying an ATR/Dash 8 or a modern jet like the E2/CSeries?


The simple answer is turboprops are more profitable on short stage lengths, say up to 400 miles or so, where the limited ceiling and slower speed are less of a detriment and the turboprop's better seat mile fuel burn is a bigger factor. This allows lower ticket prices. Once you are getting out toward 1000 miles or more, it becomes worthwhile to go higher for both efficiency and weather avoidance ability, and jets start to become more profitable.

The -8 400 extends this somewhat and can almost match jets on moderate stage lengths on total trip time, so it bridges the gap between TPs and jets to a degree. It's noise and vibration cancellation system helps this a bit by making the trip a bit less unpleasant.

There are other complications. Depending on the market, pax may be willing to pay more for jet service on short trips, especially in affluent markets. There are RJ operators in the US that run CRJ200s or 900s on very short runs that would be way cheaper served by TPs because their customer base demands jets and it's worth running those routes at razor thin margins to keep the customer base.

Other factors include things like maintenance sophistication. Older TPs require less electronics-savvy technical expertise and a small operator having great difficulty retaining mechanics trained to figure out software based control systems will be attracted to simplicity.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the -8 400, and which in truth is killing it vs its ATR counterpart in sales, is the level of electronics sophistication is high compared to other turboprops, nearly jet-like. When Canadian regional Air Canada Jazz acquired the -8 400, their -8 technical team was warned by their RJ technical team to get ready because the airplane was closer to a CRJ900 maintenance wise (systems run by black boxes vs hydromechanical components that any wrench turner can figure out) than an older -8. The training level of the technicians becomes critical in achieving decent dispatch reliability.

TP vs C Series (soon to be renamed the Airbus somethingorother)? Same thing. Depends on the mission requirement. The C Series' competition is other jets, not turboprops.


It's not to hard to demonstrate why both are needed. Turbo props are smaller, burn fuel well under 10,000. Speed isn't really a problem when you are only traveling a few hundred miles. A pure Jet wouldn't even get to altitude where the air is thin representing a drop in drag. A short route would not even allow it to climb to the thin air. In the end it's all about the benjamins.


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