Airlines extend their range as Turboprop flying reaches new lengths

Over the weekend it emerged that African carrier Air Tanzania is considering using its expanding regional Dash 8-Q400 turboprop fleet to introduce a new flight linking the tourist centres of Kilimanjaro and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, via the Spice Island of Zanzibar. According to local sources, the four times weekly link could be inaugurated as early as the first quarter of 2018.

While the 76-seat Dash 8Q-400 probably offers the right capacity and operational efficiency to serve this market it will be right at the edge of the flight envelope for the Canadian-built turboprop and the route may be better served with the CSeries CS300 which is due to arrive into Air Tanzania fleet in 2018.

The East African carrier introduced two Dash 8-Q400s into its fleet in September 2016 and took delivery of a third example at the start of August 2017. This is due to be used on a new Dar Es Salaam-Kigoma-Bujumbura service as the airline expands into Burundi.

CHART – Air Tanzania fleet summarySource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleets Database

According to literature from manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace, the published range of the Q400 is 1,100 nautical miles or 2,040 km. A non-stop flight between Kilimanjaro and Victoria Falls would be around 1,098 nautical miles (2,033km), while the additional stop in Zanzibar would reduce the distance to 1,058 nautical miles (1,959km).

If Air Tanzania does launch the flight with the equipment, it will be among the longest scheduled flight of the Q400. The aircraft has proved popular with airlines thanks to its jet like speed and turboprop efficiency helping to deliver an economic service. These dynamics have meant that the type is now gradually being flown on longer sector city pairs.

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG schedule data shows that the average sector length for Q400 scheduled operations across the globe has increased approximately 8.5% since the start of the decade and is now edging close to the 260 nautical mile (480km) figure. This shows that while the type is predominantly being used on shorter sector routes, it is also expanding into longer markets.

This summer, the turboprop is being used on over 100 city pairs that are longer than 540 nautical miles (1,000km), including a number of brand new routes such as Air Iceland’s operation for Icelandair between Reykjavik and Belfast. This is a route that shows the value of the aircraft’s performance to support not just local demand but also feed transfer traffic into a hub.

Around a fifth of these longer sector Q400 city pairs exceed 810 nautical miles (1,500km) and cover a range of business and leisure, point-to-point and hub connection routes. These include the likes of ASKY Airline flying between Ndjamena and Cotonou; Austrian Airlines between Linz and Rhodes; Ethiopian Airlines between Addis Ababa and Kigali; LAM-Linhas Aereas De Mocambique between Maputo and Nacala; Luxair between Luxembourg and Catania, Porter Airlines between Toronto City and Melbourne and South African Airways between Cape Town and Hoedspruit.

CHART – Longest Dash 8-Q400 sectors (summer 2017)Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG