Big Turboprops Are Go! (well…maybe, and maybe greener?)

Could this be a glimpse of what greener flying should look like? In fact, it is just a boring turboprop from Flybe. Image from:

Yeah…that headline is really likely to grab you. You are entirely forgiven if your left wondering…‘what is the point, Brendan?’

Well as you know I’ve an interest in greener aviation. Consider that the mainstream aircraft-makers (Boeing and Airbus) seem to have more or less given up on developing any new greener designs until the 2030s (see previous post),

So I’m interested in alternatives.

Check out these geeky stories from Flight Global:

Basically the story there is that Pratt & Whitney Canada, who make turboprops for a living, are working on new six bladed designs, that would increase speed a bit and yet keep fuel consumption well-down compared with any jet. As it now stands P&W turboprops typically burn 25 to 40 per cent less fuel and produce up to 50 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than similar-sized regional jets. If we all could fly using turboprops civil aviation would be quite a bit greener! Of course, it would also be slower and we couldn’t go as far…maybe.

Then have a look at this story:

In that story, we have Giovanni Giordo, head of the Italian aerospace firm Alenia, suggesting there is a market for a 90+ seater turboprop, and notwithstanding suggestions of caution from the French dominated ATR syndicate….whom Alenia are partners with…he says they may even build such an aircraft themselves! That seems a bit rash, but maybe with exotic Russian, Brazilian or Chinese partners and backing, such a bird could well just fly.

Anyhow, it seems to me that one possible alternative to today’s ‘narrowbodies’ is so obvious it is staring us in the face; just build and use larger turboprop regional airliners.

Not exactly sexy is it? But these humdrum aircraft could replace quite a few of the short hops that many of us take. For example many of the Dublin-London flights could be undertaken by a turboprop: you really don’t need a jet, it is just we’ve become used to jets as the standard. Okay, if the flight goes over 2-3hrs, jets are going to win with customers probably hands down. But many of us have to fly sometimes on relatively small commuter aircraft, for example the circa 50 seater ATRs used by Aer Arann. Also if the EU emissions trading scheme really does start to bite hard into Ryanair and Easyjet, the future for the low-cost & no frills sector could well be larger turboprops-at least for their more marginal routes.

One of the big economic problems for turboprops has always been that their load factors (how many passengers onboard) were usually lower than any jet which meant less revenue upsetting the savings on fuel. But if they plan for say 90-100 seats in new models, then airlines can price their seats and plan their routes to compete with those flights that are not merely ‘feeder’ flights’ but actual genuine 1-2hr short hops now offered by Ryanair or Easyjet. Moreover, a new generation of turboprops may well be roomier and less noisy to boot. Plus if you build a plane for say 100 seats, that can usually be stretched in later models up to say 120 and even more seats. At that level of capacity your getting close to being somehow competitive with the narrow body jets-at least for some routes.

The lesson of all of this? Environmental solutions can sometime be found from aggressively exploring “Available technology” rather than simply waiting for the great leap forwards, which most of the aviation industry does not seem willing to take.


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