A look at older designs that have been renewed, and out-of-production aircraft that still play key roles for their operators
When ‘turboprop airliner’ is mentioned, it is easy just to think about the latest products from ATR and Bombardier, the market’s dominant original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). But there is more to the turboprop airliner market than that – legacy types continue to have a large presence.
There are some turboprop airliners that have been out of production for many years but which are still operated in large numbers. Prime examples of these enduring designs are the BAE Systems Jetstream J31/J32/J41 family and ATP, and the Saab 340 and Saab 2000 – all types that went out of production in the 1990s.
Figures provided to AIR International by BAE Systems Regional Aircraft, which supports the in-service fleet of legacy BAE turboprops and regional jets, show that as of early 2017 around 280 BAE turboprops remain in service worldwide.
Around 190 examples of the 18-19-seat Jetstream J31/J32 are still in use out of the 386 that were produced from 1980 to 1993 (a further 20 are in storage). There are 77 in Latin America, 63 in North America, 26 in Europe, 11 in Australia, ten in the Middle East/Africa and three in Asia-Pacific.
Of the 104 examples of the Jetstream J41, a larger derivative of the J31 produced from 1992 to 1998, 64 are in service with 18 individual operators across the Americas (20 aircraft), Europe (19), Asia-Pacific (11) and the Middle East/Africa (14). A further 25 are stored. The biggest fleet operators are Eastern Airways in the UK (15 plus three stored), Easy Fly of Colombia (12 plus two stored), Yeti Airlines of Nepal (seven) and South African Airlink (five plus three stored).
BAE’s largest turboprop, developed in the 1980s, was the ATP, a stretched version of the 748. The ATP met with far more limited sales success than its predecessor – only 64 were built compared to the 380 examples of the 748 that were sold. However, 30 ATPs remain operational (a further 18 are stored). Apart from four aircraft used by NextJet in Sweden, the ATP mainly operates with West Atlantic Airlines (also based in Sweden) as an eighttonne freighter.
Some ATPs have a large freight door (LFD) installed in the rear fuselage to enable containers to be loaded and unloaded, but most are used for postal duties and so are bulk-loaded aircraft without an LFD. West Atlantic stores another 16 ATPs, although six of those are due to be parted out during 2017.
Jetstreams and ATPs are not the only turboprop airliners still flying in large numbers years after the last new-build examples left the production lines. Between 1984 and 1999, Saab produced 522 turboprop airliners, mainly the 34-seat Saab 340 but also the larger 50-58-seat Saab 2000. Information released by Saab in 2016 says more than 300 of its turboprops remain operational throughout Europe, North America, South America and Asia-Pacific.
The airline that operates the most Saab 340s is Regional Express Airlines in Australia, which according to Airfleets.net operates 52. Other major operators are Silver Airways (21) and PenAir (16) in the United States. Loganair, which currently flies under a franchise agreement with Flybe but which will operate as an independent airline again from September 2017, has 15 examples. Sprint Air in Poland operates 12 and NextJet in Sweden has 11.
Much like the ATP, the Saab 2000 met with minimal sales success – just 56 were built. But of that number 37 remain operational, including the ten aircraft used by Braathens Regional Airways in Sweden and the eight aircraft of Swiss-based Etihad Regional, which operates regional feeder services to Geneva and Lugano from cities in France, Italy and Spain.
The large numbers of legacy turboprop airliners still flying means BAE Systems and Saab continue to provide comprehensive technical support, spare parts and logistics for their aircraft.
A BAE Systems Regional Aircraft spokesman told AIR International: “We offer a full range of innovative support solutions that are tailored to the customers’ requirements. These range from our Total Support solutions, through to providing technical and spares services on an ad-hoc basis. These are offered in a menu style to the operator and through discussion with them we reach an agreement as to the most appropriate support solution.
“For the J41 and ATP we offer a full spare parts support service. Spare parts support on the J31 and Super 31 aircraft (and indeed on the 748) is provided directly to the market via Saywell International under agreement from ourselves.
“Our solutions are tailored to the customers’ needs, but generally include rotables management, spares supply, technical services, maintenance planning, reliability and obsolescence management. As the OEM, we maintain and provide all technical publications and manuals. We also offer flight operations and airworthiness support [and] inventory analysis.”
The OEMs undertake modification work to ensure their aircraft comply with any new European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. For example, EASA and the FAA have mandated the installation of ADS-B (automatic dependant surveillance-broadcast) equipment in all transport category aircraft by 2020, so BAE Systems Regional Aircraft will offer what it calls, “an appropriate solution for its fleet and, through its EASA G and J approvals, for other types as well”.
An EASA mandate for aircraft operating in European airspace to upgrade their traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) to TCAS 7.1 by December 1, 2015 led Saab to offer a software or combined software/hardware upgrade for the Saab 340 and Saab 2000 via a service bulletin to ensure the aircraft were fully compliant with the updated regulations.
Aircraft equipped with Collins TTR-921 or Honeywell TCAS- 2000 received a software upgrade from TCAS 7.0 to TCAS 7.1, while Saab 340s and Saab 2000s with the Collins TTR-920 had to have their hardware replaced, installing the TCAS-3000SP.
CHINESE LEGACY TYPES: Y-12, MA60 AND MA600
Developed by the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group during the 1980s, the Y-12 started life as a light high-wing twin-engine turboprop commuter and transport aircraft with a capability to transport about 15–17 passengers. Quite typically for a Chinese aircraft, the first product was soon replaced by an improved version, the Y-12II, powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27 turboprops. Several domestic versions like the Y-12C and Y-12D driven by the WJ-9 turboprop followed, as well as the Y-12E for 18 passengers, powered by uprated PT6A-135A engines. This version was certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2006.
Back in 1986, the Y-12 had become the first Chinese-manufactured aircraft to be exported when Sri Lanka purchased a few. Since then, more than 130 Y-12s have been exported out of more than 200 delivered in total, especially to markets in Africa, Latin America and southeast Asia, where it is often operated by not only the military, governmental agencies but also a few civil operators. Both the Y-12D and Y-12E are FAA certificated.
The latest development of the Y-12 family, the Y-12II, is almost a new design. It has new wings, a redesigned longer fuselage for 19 passengers and more powerful PT6A-65B engines for carrying three LD3 containers, and extended range.
The Y-12F had its maiden flight on December 29, 2010. It received Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) type certification in December 2015 and FAA type certification on 22 February 2016. The Y-12F is the third aircraft in the Y-12 series to obtain FAA certification; and following the flight display at Airshow China 2016at Zhuhai, a first international breakthrough was the sale to the US company Coptervision, which signed a contract for 20 Y-12Fa to fly tourists over the Grand Canyon.
Besides this small utility transport, the best-known Chinese turboprop is the MA60 and the improved MA600. The MA60 is a modernised Y-7-200A, which is itself a civil development of the An-24 for about 60 passengers developed by the Xi’an Aircraft Industry Corporation. This type received its CAAC type certificate in June 2000, but the manufacturer has not applied for FAA and EASA type certification for the United States and Europe. The MA60 has quietly accumulated an order backlog of more than 200, primarily in the developing world.
Based on the MA60, AVIC developed the MA600, which had its maiden flight in September 2008. The most important change from the MA60 are the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite, an improved passenger cabin and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127J turboprop engines with increased performance compared to the MA60. As of October 2016, Xi’an has reportedly received 136 orders from Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force is using this type as the Y-7G for VIP transport. Andreas Rupprecht
Saab offers an optional cabin upgrade for Saab 340 operators which features Acro slimline seats, lightweight carpets and the replacement of fluorescent tubing by LED lighting. Saab’s marketing says the changes result in an improved passenger experience as well as several operational benefits – the cabin lighting has a longer lifespan (60,000 hours), power consumption is reduced (from 8w per tube to 5.1w per LED), and the ballasts have been eliminated (because the LEDs run directly ofi28V direct current aircraft power).
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft says it works with customers to develop new systems and capabilities. The spokesman explained: “If customers approach us for a specific modification we will study this for them and give them a quotation.”
In September 2016, it was announced that J41 operator Airlink had won two contracts from mining companies to operate scheduled mining support air services to the paved but narrow runway airfields at Tommy’s Field, Northern Cape Province and to Venetia in Limpopo Province.
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is supporting Airlink to approve J41 operations to these narrow runways (the Tommy’s Field runway is 59ft/18m wide and Venetia is 49ft/15m wide) because the aircraft is normally cleared to operate from runways of 30m (98ft) width and above. A company statement explained: “A new modification is being worked on for the Jetstream 41 incorporating the water methanol engine rating already fitted to the aircraft and a 15-degree flap setting which should improve payload by up to seven passengers at the 4,360ft [1,328m] high altitude Tommy’s Field.
“This narrow runway operation modification will derestrict the aircraft from operating in most narrow runway environments thereby enabling the Jetstream 41 to address many new market opportunities.”
AIR International asked BAE Systems Regional Aircraft whether there are any further plans to improve and adapt its legacy designs. The spokesman said: “We will continue to support market opportunities for alternate uses of the aircraft, but do not anticipate leading them.”
The company sees a long-term future for the aircraft it supports: “The J41 is still a low-cost, reliable 29/30-seat passenger aircraft and has significant airframe life remaining. While we see some migration to alternate uses, we expect the majority of J41 aircraft to continue in some form of passenger service role, but with the potential to provide some form of freight and/or medevac services on an ad-hoc basis.
“The ATP has proven to be a very good eight-tonne freighter. We expect the ATP to remain as a freighter for the foreseeable future. There also is plenty of life left in the Jetstream 31/32 especially at the lower business charter and executive utilisation rates. The Jetstream 31/32 still has a role to play in certain parts of the world with lower trafic densities and also on niche routes in more developed air transport environments as a 18/19 seat mini-airliner.”
While the BAE and Saab turboprops have long been out of production and those companies’ activities are focused on support and modifications to suit regulatory or operators’ needs, some other turboprop airliner designs that have been around for years remain in production. RUAG Aviation at Oberpfafienhofen near Munich continues to manufacture the Dornier 228 as the Do 228 Next Generation (NG), and Aircraft Industries in the Czech Republic still produces the L410 Turbolet.
Both designs have been around for some time – the Do 228 first flew in 1981 and the Turbolet in 1970. They remain in production because their size configurations, short take-ofi/landing (STOL) performance and hot and high capabilities make them well suited for niche markets. These include regional airline routes with low passenger and freight volumes and STOL operations in regions of the developing world with limited or poor infrastructure.
RUAG acquired the type certificate for the Do 228 at the end of 2003. It announced the Do 228NG in 2007 and attained EASA certification for the type three years later, before delivering the initial example to New Central Aviation in Japan.
There are two options for a passenger configuration. One is for 19 seats at 30in (762mm) pitch and the other is for 18 seats with a toilet. Alternatively, the Do 228NG can be configured for cargo transport. There is 23ft (7m) of useable length and 14.7m3 (519ft3) of volume available in the aircraft’s rectangular cabin.
RUAG told AIR International: “The Dornier 228 is the only third-generation aircraft in its class. It has been purposely designed to match the FAR23/CS23 commuter category airworthiness standard, which assigns safety margin equivalents to transport category aircraft. Its advanced design provides the Dornier 228 with unmatched performance, payload capacity, operational flexibility and efficiency.”
The Do228NG can be reconfigured from passenger to cargo configuration. A company spokesperson told AIR International that it, “takes one person only 40 minutes to re-configure the Dornier 228”. The passenger door can be opened sideways, which together with opening an adjacent door creates an opening for bulky or heavy cargo. Smaller and lighter cargo can be secured with nets, while bulky and heavier cargo stacked on pallets can be loaded and unloaded from the aircraft and the cargo locked in place on the seat rails.
Production of the Do 228NG ended after an initial batch of eight aircraft was completed, but it restarted again in 2015 after new orders were received and in 2016 RUAG said it was preparing its facilities at Oberpfaffenhofen to resume series production. The RUAG spokesperson told AIR International that as of January 2017, since production began again, one aircraft has been delivered and four more are in final assembly. The future planned annual production rate is four aircraft per year.
SOVIET LEGACY TYPES
The most popular commercial turboprops in Russian airlines are An-24s, whose average age is now about 39 years. Sixty of these still fly; about 20 slightly younger An-26-100 transports, converted to passenger aircraft, can be added to this number. In 2005, the Aviakor plant of Samara launched series production of the Ukrainian An-140-100, then envisaged to be the successor of the An-24; previously, from 1999 the An-140 was produced by Kharkiv plant in Ukraine and in Shahin Shahr in Iran. A total of around 37 aircraft were built, including 12 in Samara. All nine Russian An-140s are now operated by the military; the only Russian commercial user, Yakutia Airlines, ceased operations with its four aircraft in 2015. Piotr Butowski
RUAG said a digital autopilot for the Do 228NG is currently in development, “and will be released in the middle of this year”. The company continues to provide technical, material and document support to help existing operators complete maintenance, as well as pilot training.
More than 1,100 examples of the L410 Turbolet have been built. The current version of the aircraft is the L410UVP-E20, but Aircraft Industries is currently working on a comprehensive upgrade – the L410NG.
There are several difierences between the L410UVP-E20 and the L410NG. The NG has a more powerful version of the General Electric H85 engine, delivering 850hp (633kW) compared to the 800hp (596kW) of the H85 in the L410UVP-E20. There is a lower maximum propeller speed of 1,950rpm (down from 2,080rpm), with a new engine gearbox to reduce noise.
The flight deck will be upgraded with glass cockpit instrumentation and there will be a larger luggage compartment, offering 2.98m3 (105ft3) of capacity compared to 1.47m3 (52ft3). A new wing structure with integral fuel tanks will increase fuel capacity from 1,300kg (2,866lb) to 2,340kg (5,158lb).
In performance terms, the L410NG will have increased maximum take-ofiweight (7,000kg/15,435lb, up from 6,600kg/14,553lb) and the ability to carry more payload (2,154kg/4,478lb compared to 1,800kg/3,968lb). It will have a higher maximum cruise speed of 226kts (417km/h), up from 219kts (398km/h), and 1,457 nautical miles (2,500km) of range compared to the 820 nautical miles (1,520km) capability of the earlier aircraft. Maximum endurance will nearly double, from 5.1 hours to ten hours.
The L 410NG prototype, OK-NGA, first flew from Aircraft Industries’ facility at Kunovice in July 2015. A spokeswoman told AIR International the company plans to conclude testing work and finish the certification of the new variant in the middle of this year.
The updated Turbolet, the ongoing production of the Do 228, the continued large presence of the BAE Systems and Saab designs - all point to the fact that well-established types are likely to be around in the turboprop airliner market for a good while. Mark Broadbent