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Business Air News
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Me and My Aircraft–Twin turboprops: The turboprop faithful sing the praises of rugged workhorses everywhere
The business twin turboprop marketplace is one which Beechcraft has had sown up since business aviation was a boy in 1964, with its ubiquitous King Air line-up.

The business twin turboprop marketplace is one which Beechcraft has had sown up since business aviation was a boy in 1964, with its ubiquitous King Air line-up. And with the company's future now looking brighter than in recent years this dominance is likely to continue.

Its special mission King Air 350ER demonstrator aircraft is in the midst of a worldwide year-long tour of more than 15 countries on six continents, and will fly an estimated 80,000 miles.

“We discovered through a similar tour last year that the best way to demonstrate the performance, versatility and low operating costs of the King Air 350ER is to take the aircraft around the world,” said Dan Keady, Beechcraft senior vp, special missions. “Experiencing the aircraft first hand makes it easy for governments, military and commercial customers to see why the King Air is the ideal aircraft to address the unique challenges of most special mission operations.” The aircraft will be on show at the Paris air show this month and the Dubai Air Show in November.

More than 7,000 King Airs are operated in 127 countries around the world and have surpassed 60 million total flight hours. Around 700 of these ply their trade with EBAN readers around Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Africa.

In terms of business aviation the main competition for the King Air in current production is the Piaggio Avanti, which the Italian manufacturer continues to refine each year. Most recently Piaggio Aero approved a revised maintenance programme with extended inspection intervals which, together with the cancellation of the previously required daily check and monthly inspection, represents a reduction of up to 18 per cent in the maintenance man-hours for the aircraft.

“The approval of the new maintenance programme has been enabled following an extensive study of reliability data gathered over 800 thousand flight hours, accumulated by the worldwide fleet of P180 aircraft in a variety of mission profiles,” says Paolo Ferreri, vp of worldwide customer support. “We are consistently seeking ways to provide savings for our aircraft operators around the world and are confident these extended maintenance times will do just that.”

For utility and challenging environments, the Let L410 is still in serial production some 50 years after its original conception. At the end of April certification of the new H80-200 engine and AV 725 propeller used on the L 410 UVP E20 aircraft was finished. The new power plant will start serial production and replace the existing GE M601-E engines and propellers.

The 50th aircraft produced by Czech manufacturer Aircraft Industries since 2005, when the company was taken over by a new owner and gained its current company name, has been delivered. More than half of these have gone to the Russian Federation, and this most recent example went to the autonomous Republic of Komi in the north part of the Federation. It is the third aircraft for this customer, and will be used not only for standard regional transport of passengers, but also equipped with a kit for paratroopers and a sanitary kit for a flying ambulance.

For this report we asked our readers with direct experience of twin turboprops to assess the good and bad points according to their own direct personal experience. We included every type of aircraft in the sector, including those no longer produced but still in regular service.

Beechcraft 1900

On the cusp between business aircraft and commuter airliner, the Beechcraft 1900 is highly popular throughout Africa. There are a dozen or more operators in South Africa, four in Kenya and three in each of Algeria, Angola and Botswana.

Helmuth Rame of AirTraffic in Kenya has experience of the Beech 1900C and D models, and declares himself to be very satisfied with the available support for the aircraft. “We consider Beech support to be the industry's best,” he says. “We have very few delays or cancellations, and it is very good when flying in and out of runways which are longer than 1,500 metres. It has good range versus payload. We use it for trips between 600 and 900 nm. It has a cargo pod so it is not necessary to carry all the luggage inside the cabin.”

He does concede that too many spare parts are now 'special productions' and therefore difficult to get and with long delivery times. But the worst things, he says, are the missing toilet: “There are few with installed toilets, but this should be a standard add-on from Beechcraft,” and the fact that it cannot be fitted with an auto-pilot.

Otherwise, Rame's only lament is that the aircraft is no longer in production and therefore very difficult to get hold of – especially the 1900D. He wishes production could be restarted.

Beechcraft King Air 200

There are nearly 200 Beech King Air 90 series aircraft in operation around our region, centred on large fleets in France and Germany, and the baby of the range is still available factory new in the guise of the C90GTx. There remain a handful of Beech 100s in service too, but the main workhorse of the King Air line up continues to be the 200 series.

There are no fewer than 500 of these throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The main populations fly from the UK, France and Germany, but there are eight operators of the type in Angola and a dozen in South Africa. The governments of Botswana, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal and Togo are among those putting the King Air 200 to public service.

One respondent to our survey has experience of the King Air 200 in a flight inspection role, and reports that it is a very capable airframe, although the avionics and traffic avoidance in particular are now quite dated and require upgrade to work safely in some areas. He points out that there are plenty of EASA part 145 maintenance organisations in the EMEA region, except for the Middle East which does cause some issues. “It's rugged enough for the demanding environment we operate in,” he concludes.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore of London Executive Aviation agrees that the aircraft is rugged, able to “go places” and has plenty of space. The down-side, he says, is the price, but: “We have been operating King Airs for over 16 years. They are a very competent workhorse.”

Gwyndaf Williams of Haverfordwest Air Charter Services (FlyWales) says the King Air 200 scores highly for reliability, short field performance and endurance, and he is very satisfied with the available maintenance support. As for how to improve it, simply add Garmin avionics, he says.

Lisa Humphries of Capital Air Charter has experience of a fleet of King Air 200s and is equally positive. “We have found them to be the most cost efficient and adaptable aircraft for our customers,” she says.

Reliability, modest fuel consumption, payload capability and takeoff/landing performance are the highlights for Captain Frank Achner of Star Wings Dortmund. His only wish would be for more speed.

The current production model is the King Air 250, which has composite winglets and propellers which, Beechcraft says, delivers substantial improvements in takeoff performance while actually increasing speed, range and climb.

Super King Air 300

The largest current production model King Air is the 350i, also available in an extended range variant.

More than 20 of the hundred-plus 300 series King Airs in operation around our region are this latest model, which has proved very popular in emerging markets. For example, there are almost as many operators of the King Air 300 series in Angola (six) as in Germany (seven). It can be found in numbers in the UK and France, but also in countries around the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Dispatch reliability of around 95 per cent has left Dr Gert Kroll of Mike Fly very satisfied, although he reports that spare parts supply can sometimes be slow and expensive. The aircraft was purchased factory-new and had the most problems during the first 700 flight hours.

“It is very reliable and easy to fly. You can load the aircraft with full seats and tanks full,” he says.

Jaroslav Malinsky of VR JET has mixed feelings about the 350i which was on his fleet until the end of last year. “The aircraft itself is state-of-the-art, in respect to the flight crew and more importantly to the passengers. Some of the features and equipment which we had on board, you would expect in a mid-size jet upwards, not in a turboprop.

“Eight full leather heated seats with individual controls were superb, and the electric shading system and on board entertainment made travelling a real pleasure.” The problems, he says, were with the limited baggage space with a full load and, more importantly, with the cabin heating system, which caused considerable down-time.

Hans-Rudolf Woehrl of Intro Verwaltungs and Eric Rechtsteiner of Air Independence both declare themselves satisfied with every aspect of their King Air 350s.

Christopher Mace of SaxonAir Charter says: “The King Air series of aircraft are very reliable and there are several key maintenance companies with good capability available in the UK. However, the phase inspection programme does mean inspections are due every 200 hours, which are considerably more frequent than the more modern jet aircraft manufacturers.

“The King Air has always been a proven workhorse, the PT6 engines are very reliable and the airframe built well. The 350 has a superb payload/range profile, with plenty of room for baggage – it just does the job well. Of course turboprops are let down by speed, but gain in runway performance and efficiency.

“We flew eight people with golf clubs and bags from Carlisle to Palma for a weekend and a family of nine from Edinburgh to Cannes. The aircraft is very adaptable.”

He does, however, point out that the King Air 350 is “Performance A” and therefore does not enjoy the short runway benefits to the extent that the 200 series does.

The wing lockers on the 350 allow for a lot more baggage, skis and golf clubs to be carried alongside the large rear baggage area, he adds.

Cessna 425

Cessna's twin turboprops live on around our region, in the form of about twenty 425 Conquest Is and a dozen 441 Conquest IIs. The types are popular in Namibia, but most prevalent in Germany.

One EBAN reader with experience of the Conquest I with 136A turbines responded to our survey in glowing terms: “It can fly in and out of small airfields and is fast. More practical than the small jets but with jet speeds. It is quiet to operate and very comfortable for passengers. The worst thing is the luggage capacity.”

Dornier Do228

The majority of the world fleet of Dornier 228s have not flown far from the nest, and are in operation in their native country, Germany. There is a sprinkling of other operators around Europe, in Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the UK.

In Kenya, AirTraffic has a fleet of three, in 19 passenger configuration and offering the largest cargo capacity in its fleet. Helmuth Rame praises the “fantastic” reliability of the aircraft, but has reservations when it comes to maintenance support: “RUAG do not provide spare parts at a reasonable price compared to the world market prices. Many parts are produced in the US where they often can be obtained for less than half the price. All original Dornier parts produced in Europe are nearly impossible to buy at all.”

He finds that the Do228 covers the whole spectrum of operations in Africa. “No other aircraft type has this flexibility of range, runway lengths and number of passengers,” he adds.

Embraer EMB-120

The Embraer Brasilia still enjoys considerable popularity in France, with no fewer than five different operators there, mainly on regional airline services. There are also two operators in Moldova.

Meanwhile in Spain, EBAN reader Nacho Isla of Flightline responded to our survey to express his satisfaction with the aircraft. “We do our own maintenance and we offer maintenance to third parties,” he says, “and find that it is the best and most reliable aircraft for 30 seats and the best commuter machine.”

Jetstream 31/41

A direct competitor to the Brasilia, albeit rather more numerous, is the Jetstream 31 and 41 series. These are used by regional airlines, business operators and private owners in the UK and Scandinavia mainly, but also throughout Europe and Africa. Proflight Zambia and NRH in South Africa have substantial fleets.

Turkey boasts one operator, Redstar Aviation, and Emre Dursan reports that its Super 31 model is used in medevac and passenger roles. “We have at the moment a great base engineering team paired with a reliable Part 145 organisation. However, due to the relative rarity of the aircraft, spares are not always readily available.

“Apart from a few minor issues, our reliability with the type has been acceptable. So long as the aircraft is operated within its optimum range, it is guaranteed that it will be the most competitive in its class. However, when stretched to long range it will suffer when compared against the mid-range jet aircraft.

“These aircraft are very under-valued and you get an awful lot of aircraft for your money. The cabin is one of the largest and most spacious in its class, with ample headroom even when standing. When used in the medevac/casevac role, the cabin is even more roomy allowing for medical crew to work with considerable ease,” he says.

Reduced efficiency on long-range missions, and sub-standard STOL performance, are issues for Redstar, but in general Dursan is happy with the aircraft: “An upgraded avionics package is desirable, but not needed on the late model 32s. The Super 31/3200 model has more powerful engines and many issues with the original aircraft have been solved.

“All in all, it is a good all-round aircraft. Our pilots like it and it is built very solidly which makes it very durable and a clear choice when operating in harsher climates. A roomy cabin and cockpit is a rarity in its class and makes it a favourite for passengers and crew alike,” Dursan concludes.

Let 410UVP

EBAN's readers are responsible for over 170 Let 410 aircraft of various models. The type has made very few inroads into western European fleets, but is prolific in eastern Europe, the Ukraine and throughout Africa – where its rugged nature is much appreciated.

It is a niche aircraft able to comfortably transport 18 passengers in a roomy cabin and from short runways, says one respondent to our survey, adding that time-consuming airframe inspections and the lack of a transparent pricing policy for both aircraft and parts are problems.

The largest single fleet of Let 410 aircraft is in the hands of Air-Tec, whose Jan Rehousek is an expert on the type: “The L410 UVP does not meet western certifications and only a few remain in operation. The L410 UVP-E20 is available as new production and a new L410 NG is being developed.

“It is robust, reliable, very well adapted for remote operations and especially on unpaved runways.”

Air-Tec recently signed an agreement with GE Aviation to develop an engine upgrade for the L410 aircraft. Under the programme, Air-Tec will replace the current M601 engine that powers its aircaft with GE's new H75 engine.

“Air-Tec is the largest M601 operator and has a deep understanding of the engine and aircraft,” says Jim Stoker, president and managing executive of GE Aviation Czech. “The engine upgrade to the new H75 engine will enhance the performance of the L410 aircraft and bring many benefits to customers."

“We see great opportunities with the H75-powered L410 aircraft in our own fleet as well as aircraft operating in the African and Latin American regions, and we look forward to developing this new engine upgrade programme,” adds Rehousek.

Customers can upgrade from a M601 engine to the H75 without any major modifications to the aircraft. The engine upgrade programme will provide increased temperature margin, improved fuel efficiency and extended time between overhaul.

The H75, which GE Aviation launched last year, is rated at 750 shaft horsepower for takeoff and maximum continuous operation and is aimed at the agricultural, commuter, utility and business turboprop aircraft segments. EASA certified the H75 engine last year with the FAA type certification anticipated this year.

Air-Tec is the largest L410 fleet operator in Africa. As well as being an aircraft operator, it also sells and leases L410/420 aircraft for regional airlines, aid agencies and NGOs, oil exploration companies and clients requiring smaller aircraft. Based in Port-Louis, Mauritius, Air-Tec has branches in France, the Czech Republic and South Africa.

Also based in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is Alex Gazzé of Kin Avia. “We are in contact with Let Aircraft Industries and General Electric for the engines. We have three Ukrainian engineers with us here in Kinshasa,” he says.

“We are very satisfied with dispatch reliability. It has been six years since we started operating our five Let 410 UVP-E and, except for minor incidents, we have had almost no delays due to technical problems.

“I believe that the Let 410 UVP-E is the right aircraft to operate in such an environment as the DR of Congo, with runway and airstrips not always in very good condition. The Let 410 UVP-E shows its strength, manoeuvrability and ease of operation. There is nothing too complicated with the systems, no autopilot, no pressurisation, and it is easy to maintain. The operating cost is acceptable for the kind of operation we do. Two regular flights per day and some charter flights.

“The best things about it are the 18 seat capacity, ability to land on airstrips with grass runways, and strong landing gear. It is perfect to operate in Africa.

“The worst is its speed, at 165 kts sometimes it's difficult to compete with a King Air going to the same airport on charter flight,” he says.

Being based in a hot location means that air conditioning has considerable appeal as a possible upgrade, but this is balanced against the need to keep systems simple to ensure reliability. Kin Avia operates regular services not exceeding one hour 15 minutes flight time, and for charter flights can cover all of the Congo.

P180 Avanti

The number of Piaggio Avantis in service in the EMEA region is fast approaching 100 – which is testament to the aircraft's appeal, given the bankruptcy of the original Piaggio manufacturing company and the unconventional design of the Avanti itself.

The Italian government has been helpful in ordering the aircraft for its forestry department, but there are also corporate examples in service all over Europe as well as in Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE.

One EBAN reader and Avanti owner reports that the cabin is roomy and that the cabin has good differential pressure, which is especially important for patients on medevac missions.

Short maintenance intervals, the landing gear and insufficiently robust door seals came in for criticism. “Piaggio Aero Industries is trying to introduce some innovations; a better maintenance schedule plan (see earlier in this report), availability of spare parts and maintenance, technical documentation and some modifications,” says our correspondent. “These steps are in the right direction. Only, as an operator, we need them quicker.”

Piper PA-31T

Piper last produced a twin turbine-powered aircraft some 20 years ago in 1993, but the PA-31T Cheyenne I/II and PA-42 Cheyenne III/IV remain in widespread use today. There are good numbers in Germany, France and Switzerland, while individual examples have found homes in Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Namibia.

The fact that it is an ageing type inevitably means that the cost of unscheduled maintenance is increasing, says Michael Fuchs. However, he remains very satisfied with his Cheyenne II which is “very cheap to operate and capable for short runways.”

Other correspondents are concerned about the ongoing availability of spare parts.

Metro/Merlin

The Fairchild Swearingen Merlin/ Metro series is in widespread use around Europe, and enjoys particular popularity in Spain.

Nacho Isla of Flightline reflects on his company's fleet of five Metros: “There is not another type of aircraft which can do the same for the same money and with the same service.”

Bruno Sorensen of North Flying cannot find fault with the SA227D Metro 23, the model which Milt Sintakis of SwiftAir Helias believes would be the ideal upgrade path from his earlier variant.

“It is the fastest in its class, and an ideal cargo aircraft,” says Sintakis, who also recognises one problem with the aircraft in terms of fuel leaks.

Shorts SC7 Skyvan

According to EBAN's reader data only three Shorts Skyvans remain in service in Europe; one in Luxembourg and two in Austria.

Thomas Lewetz of Pink Aviation Services replied to our survey to praise his for its operating costs, payload and rear ramp. His only criticism – its “apperance like a box.”

Shorts SD3-60

Shorts' rather larger and more recent model, the SD3-60 can still be found in Germany, the UK, South Africa and Denmark.

One reader described the SD3-60 as a robust, versatile aircraft which suffers from having an infinite list of life-limited components.

Twin Commander

There is a good scattering of turbine-powered Twin Commanders around Europe, including about ten in the UK. The type is much more prolific in the US, where there is an active community of owners and operators.

A recent Twin Commander University gathering in Arizona gave an award to Propulsion International for its Group Maintenance Plan for the Honeywell TPE-331 engine series. Twin Commander president Matt Isley says: “The Twin Commander is unique in that it has such a wide range of mission capabilities. We are looking for ways to help our diverse owner group control costs while ensuring the safety and reliability of these great aircraft. “The Propulsion International GMP is a great option for Commander operators seeking to reduce their engine maintenance costs and protect themselves from unexpected maintenance expenses.”

Entering its third decade, the Twin Commander University is hosted every other year by Twin Commander Aircraft. The event brings together owners, operators, service centres, manufacturers and ancillary service providers to exchange ideas and insights into improving the owner/operator experience.

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