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Me & my aircraft; Single engine turboprops: SETs are safe, versatile and economically viable: time for full scale commercial acceptance?
Despite initial concerns from some corners of the industry about the safety and reliability of a lone engine, the single engine turboprop (SET) has enjoyed a remarkable uptake globally since its inception two decades ago.
Read this story in our April 2014 printed issue.

Despite initial concerns from some corners of the industry about the safety and reliability of a lone engine, the single engine turboprop (SET) has enjoyed a remarkable uptake globally since its inception two decades ago. Many operators and owners have replaced their ageing twin piston fleets with the type, on mission profiles ranging from personal leisure excursions to ferrying cargo. Attaining certification from EASA and other regulatory bodies to fly SETs for AOC charter in IMC has, however, proved tremendously challenging, and the Single Engine Turbine Alliance has campaigned extensively to alter the ruling for commercial air transport operations.

Nonetheless, those that fly SETs generally find them to be some of the safest machines around, granting access to underdeveloped airfields with a reduced environmental impact and competitive DOCs. EBAN spoke to manufacturers and clients of the four major players in this segment: Pilatus with its PC-12, Piper with the Meridian, Daher-Socata's TBM series and Cessna's Caravan. Here is what they had to say.

Cessna Caravan proves itself a dependable workhorse regardless of runway surface

The Caravan is in wide use internationally; about 85 per cent of Cessna's deliveries are outside of the US. It has enjoyed particular success in Africa, where it is flown for a diverse mission profile. It is popular with commuters on short range trips. Dispatch reliability (of 99 per cent), along with ease of loading and unloading, low acquisition cost and low direct operating costs are all benefits of the type.

As well as commuting, owners often deploy the Caravan for sightseeing tours and for transporting cargo. Travel in Africa by road can be very difficult, and the prop can tolerate the harsh runways in the region.

It is not a pressurised aircraft and is considered very easy to operate, with a large cargo door and passenger doors. Access is simple be it for freight, passengers or a combination of both.

Bruno Budim of Denmark's BenAir says that the maintenance support he receives from Cessna for his Caravan is very satisfying, and he is particularly pleased with the new maintenance programme for the airframe, which he calls a 'positive development.' Dispatch reliability has also been very dependable, thanks to the aircraft's sturdy, simple design and proven components, assemblies and engine. Operating capability is equally gratifying, and Budim remarks that the Caravan is an extremely versatile aircraft with direct operating costs he can rely on. “The depreciation rate is low on this aircraft,” he says, “and it is a combination of a simple, efficient and versatile concept, backed up by a reliable manufacturer and support organisation, along with a market demand which contributes to the low depreciation rate.”

He feels that use of the aircraft will become more common as EASA paves the way for single engine turbine commercial operations in IMC and at night, through a new notice of proposed amendment. Budim believes the most desirable upgrade is the latest engine and avionics options that have emerged in the last five to six years, both from type certificate and supplementary type certificate holders. These have provided a wide range of solutions to choose from. Budim sums up his opinion of the Caravan by saying that it is one of the best aircraft choices his company has ever made.

Mr Joubert of Jemax Aviation South Africa is very satisfied with his Caravan: “It is very reliable and the only aircraft in its class that can accommodate the passenger numbers we often need to transport,” he says. As a desired upgrade, he points out that further weight savings could be achieved by using modern, lightweight material in the cons-truction, thus improving the payload.

Waldemar Podsiadlo is responsible for a 208B Grand Caravan G1000, and is happy with the maintenance support he receives from Air Alliance in Siegerland, Germany, and AMC Aviation in Warsaw, Poland. He says the best features of the aircraft are the STOL and the G1000 avionics, and a desirable upgrade is an engine with more power and improved performance, especially the ability to climb better. He would also like to see a better ignition unit installed which is capable of longer cycles during icy conditions. He says that the cargo pod is very useful.

Karel Holous of CzechGlobe, a global change research centre in Brno, is satisfied all round with his 208B Grand Caravan, and says that the aircraft offers very good value for money. His aircraft has had modifications approved for remote sensing operations, and he praises the cabin space and the simple and solid construction of the type. High wing refuelling can prove tricky and a modification for aerial imaging with large camera holes for remote sensing is his most desirable upgrade.

Andrea Guerra operates a Caravan for Soaring Safaris Namibia and is satisfied with the maintenance support for the aircraft. He speaks highly of both the dispatch reliability and operating capability of his machine, and says that overall it is very rugged and reliable, even though initial acquisition costs were pricey. He too would like a more powerful engine, and has his sights set on the C208EX but while this engine does have the required power, he says it is too expensive for him to purchase new.

Another respondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, flies two C208Bs in Africa, and is very satisfied across the board with these aircraft. Dispatch reliability is impressive at around 98 per cent, and it is claimed to be the best value single engine turboprop on the market today: “It is such an incredibly versatile aircraft, the operating crew love it, and passengers love it too,” the respondent says. More horsepower is desired once again, although the contributor says that this aspect has been rectified in the latest model.

Gibran Chaudhry of Phoenix Aviation in Kenya has three C208Bs in his fleet, one of which has G1000 avionics. He is extremely satisfied with the maintenance and dispatch reliability of the aircraft, remarking that it 'doesn't miss a beat' and is one of the best you can buy in terms of dispatch. He continues: “We can land almost anywhere and on the shortest of unprepared strips, be they gravel, sand, mud, grass or water logged. I have flown them a lot in South Sudan for aid work into and out of 500m short muddy airstrips.

“Pop the seats out in minutes and we do elephant rescues, medevacs, cargo and so much more.”

Chaudhry says the best thing about the Caravan is its reliability and it is very easy to fly in his opinion. As well as its versatile landing capability it is simple to convert the configuration of the aircraft swiftly from passenger to cargo and vice versa. “We can do it in a matter of minutes.” He does warn that it can be slow on longer routes and would benefit from 'a bit more grunt' in hot and high altitude conditions. A desirable upgrade is to the engine which would increase shaft horse power, speed and rate of climb and also reduce takeoff distance. In summary, Chaudhry declares that this is definitely one of the best 'bush planes' ever made. “It's a true workhorse in Africa,” he concludes.

David Seton of East African Air Charters Kenya also operates the C208B Grand, and is very satisfied in almost all respects. According to him, versatility and ease of operation are the key plus points of the type. He is nonetheless disappointed with the slow cruise speed.

Hendrikus van der Goot operates a 208BEX for Tanzanian Northern Air and is generally satisfied with maintenance, dispatch, operating capability and value. “The EX flies 20 kts quicker than the standard Caravan and has an amazing climb performance,” he states. “The upgraded avionics with the dynamic red line on the torque gauge really helps the pilot not to exceed limitations. LED lights are a lot better.”

Van der Goot is not so happy with the digital fuel gauges, which he says are too sensitive on the G1000. “It does not balance itself after doing a few tight turns during taxiing,” he adds. This can lead to refuelling errors as one tank is overfilled, leading to an imbalance. “Hence the single point refuelling system is unusable.” His most desired upgrade is the Aircraft Payload Extender.

Mark Reeves conducts airborne surveys from Lanseria, South Africa, for CGG using his Caravan. He is especially satisfied with the maintenance support he receives and has his own AMO on site. Reliability is top of his list of positives for the type, and he would like to install a more powerful Blackhawk engine.

The Caravan does not just score highly in terms of reliability. It is a very adaptable aircraft too, a point which is highlighted by Senegalese Arc en Ciel Aviation's Michael Jacquot: “Soft field, hard runway, on load, with high temperatures. An excellent aircraft whatever the circumstances!” he says. Jacquot loves the payload range ratio, whether configured for passenger, cargo or medevac. “It is a good aircraft for this kind of operation for a maxi range of 400 nm, way in way out,” he continues. “Fuel consumption is very striking.”

He is not keen on the Bendix King series for navigation, as he says it is expensive and doesn't work well. He believes the payload could be increased further and cites this as a desired upgrade, and also feels the aircraft would benefit from an entertainment system.

Ted Vallin flies a C208B cargo master for Nordflyg Logistics in Sweden, and is happy across the board with his purchase.

Angela Hickling is responsible for two 208Bs at British Parachute Schools, which fly for parachuting and skydiving. She says that both aircraft were purchased from Air Alliance in Siegerland, Germany, which is a Cessna dealer and maintenance organisation. “We had both aircraft maintained at Siegerland: one since 2000 and the other since 2004,” she remarks, although one aircraft has since been moved to AirMed Engineering at Oxford, UK. “These companies have always helped us over the years if anything was urgent,” adds Hickling.

She is very pleased with the dispatch reliability, and reports that both aircraft flew 350 hours last year, completing over 1,000 parachute lifts with very little down time. She speaks highly of the 208's performance and the value for money it offers: “The Caravan is a very consistent aircraft. Flying skydivers often means despatching them at different altitudes. That's fine, because the aircraft can be operated up to 3,000 ft or 13,000 ft, or passes in between.

“We changed from a Cessna 206 and a Britten Norman Islander. Both of these were brilliant aircraft but had piston engines so were a bit slow going to 13,500 feet as required nowadays by skydivers. The 208Bs are fast aircraft, clean and modern, valuable but good value for money. They are workhorses that can lift a good weight and keep going.”

An upgrade to the four blade propeller makes the aircraft much quieter. “We fly in the same small area and the noise can upset people so now the noise is a lot less.” She would also like the Blackhawk engine's added power, but cannot currently afford one.

Piper Meridian offers value for money and operation at high altitude

The Meridian came into the market around the year 2000. It has Pratt & Whitney PT6 engines and is priced at US$2.2 million, a million less than its closest competitor the TBM.

The Piper aircraft is aimed at buyers looking for an entry level aircraft, and it has very competitive fuel burn at just under 37 gallons an hour leading to lower operating costs.

It is often used by organisations seeking to complement their existing fleets, and the type has been marketed in every region of the world. Many are sold in the US and South America, and in recent times several have been sold to Russia and elsewhere in Europe. It burns JetA, so for areas where AvGas is not readily available such as Russia, it is a good fit. Two years ago Piper added a specialist dealer in Russia and this is considered a growing Meridian market.

It doesn't match the TBM for speed but nonetheless offers a healthy 250 kts, with a maximum range of about 1,000 nm. With altitude certification up to 30,000 ft it can get above the weather. Many buyers are stepping up to the Meridian from smaller piston aircraft. For these clients the avionics installation makes for an easy transition; the prop has G1000 avionics and GSE7 auto pilot, which is ideal for those already familiar with the technologies.

Our first Piper PA-46 Meridian respondent wishes to remain anonymous. He flies a PA46T Jetprop DLX-35 and is very satisfied with its performance. He says that the economics and the ease of operation are the most pleasing things about the aircraft. “The Jetprop fuel system with header tank works well and has redundancy, which is very important in a single engine aircraft.”

The payload is the aircraft's biggest disappointment, according to our contributor: “The wing tanks are cold and you need to use 'Prist' at all times for a safe operation.

“Also, pilots taller than 185cm will not be comfortable in the cockpit. Cabin heat is not adequate unless you put some extra insulation under the floor mat, and the heated windshield is very expensive to replace if you burn it – the same goes for the heated stall warning vane.”

Redgy Deschacht flies a PA46T for OK Aviation in Prague, having also spent time at Winters Aviation in Antwerp. He is satisfied overall with the aircraft but would prefer it if the Meridian was capable of longer range. The prop represents good value for money, in his opinion: “This is the cheapest single turboprop, and it can be operated with low fuel and maintenance cost. It holds its value over time.”

Along with the range, Deschacht feels the Meridian suffers from weak brakes and says that crew seats are not spacious. He would replace the Avidyne system with Garmin if he could, but does maintain that the current system is not a problem for him.

Czech Republic T-Air's Jan Buben is satisfied with the performance of his Meridian, despite costly parts. Dispatch and value are both good and he compliments its 'amazing flying features.' He does criticise the landing gear however: “I feel that all Piper aircraft have problematic gear. I would also appreciate it if they would do something with the interior so that it doesn't look and feel so cheap. I want the interior to last more then 1,000 flight hours.”

Ronnie Schild flies a Piper Meridian for Ropec Investments in South Africa and says that he is satisfied with its performance in all departments. He says: “The best thing about this aircraft is that it is very well equipped and fast.” Nonetheless, Schild would like to upgrade to a VLJ if the opportunity arose.

Pilatus PC-12 is a favourite of executives and with plenty of cargo capacity

The PC-12 is mainly used for private ops and owner pilots. It's said to be an easy machine to fly with a single thrust, and is simple to land owing to the large trailing gear and big tyres. Versatility is a fundamental trait of the type, and camera installations are common.

There is even an optional utility door, so air rescue, dropping goods into the sea, or skydiving at very high altitude, are all possible.

The manufacturer has delivered close to 1,250 PC-12s since the introduction of the model in 1994. About 70 per cent of these fly in the US. Roughly 85 to 90 per cent of PC-12s sold are used for executive transportation, about six or seven per cent for air ambulance, and the rest for other transport missions, such as those of the Canadian mountain police.

A key point about the aircraft is its landing capability: it is comfortable on gravel, grass, and even in the Australian outback. Another feature is the sizeable cargo door which at 53 by 52 inches is especially good for air ambulance transportation.

Luxembourgish Skytation's Daniel French operates a Pilatus PC-12 and is very satisfied with the product. He is especially fond of the size, comfort and versatility of the machine but does go on to say that the cost of spare parts can be extortionate.

Daniel Mavrakis flies a PC-12 for Myriel Aviation, a private operator in Luxembourg. He is pleased with the 'outstanding support' he receives from his maintenance suppliers. He is also very happy with the dispatch reliability, operating capability and value of his aircraft, which he describes as unique: “It combines a large payload, long range – even with full payload, and the ability to operate at short and soft fields, with a great cargo door and low operating cost. I can't think of any downsides.”

A desired upgrade is a GNS 750/650 for a legacy PC-12, though Mavrakis does point out that the aircraft is 'fully loaded' and equipped with everything he requires.

T-Air's Jan Buben also owns a PC-12. He says that at times it can take a while for Pilatus or Honeywell to answer his queries. Dispatch reliability has been good, with 'no malfunctions.' He describes the PC-12 as a 'hard-working horse which can take you anywhere.' He is fond of its short field capability payload and says the aircraft has amazing endurance. The avionics can be temperamental though: “I'd like to fix the bugs in the Honeywell Apex. This would be my most desirable upgrade.”

Austrian Oberaigner Gesellschaft's Robert Mager is completely satisfied with his PC-12 and reports that there are no downsides to the aircraft whatsoever.

TBM is speedy and sturdy for European corporations

The TBM turboprop series is manufactured in France but is exported worldwide, mainly to the US. In Europe most TBMs are based in Germany, the UK and France. By the end of 2013 Daher-Socata had delivered 324 TBM 700s and 338 TBM 850s, 128 of them based in Europe with corporate operators. Last year the fleet exceeded 1,100,000 hours. Sales in the UK have been affected due to tax issues; if you are not registered for charter you cannot recover your VAT, which is not too desirable on a $3.5 million aircraft.

The TBM is mostly owner-operated, as approval for commercial operations was only granted in June 2013, Voldirect in France is currently the only company permitted. One customer in Germany uses the TBM as a shuttle back and forth from its headquarters. From Coburg to Frankfurt by car takes three hours, whereas with the TBM it is 30 minutes.

The aircraft is highly regarded for its ability to combine the cruising speed and trip times of a light jet with the economic direct operating costs, range and moderate environmental signature of a turboprop engine. The latest member of the family, announced this month, is the TBM 900 which offers improved perfor-mance: a maximum cruise speed of 330 kts, maximum range of 1,730 nm with five adult passengers, and better fuel consumption. More than 40 units have already been ordered.

Seventy per cent of Daher-Socata's aircraft are sold in the US, with Latin America a strongly emerging market. The TBM turboprop range is also proving popular in eastern Europe: due to travel links not being of the same standard as western Europe, buyers are said to feel more comfortable having their own aircraft with access to remote airports.

The first TBM owner reporting back to us was Sasa Acimovic from Neonucleon of Belgrade, Serbia. He flies a TBM 700B and is satisfied with his maintenance support, although he confesses that the service is far from cheap: “Especially at the Socata factory in Tarbes, prices can be very high. They do, however, make sure that the aircraft flies with no problems in between visits.”

Acimovic has had no cancelled flights and all planned missions have been completed without incident. He is delighted with the value overall: “The TBM is a fast, capable aircraft with very few limitations.” His most desirable upgrade is the Garmin avionics with G600 panels and two GTN750s. He is a firm believer that Eurocontrol charges should not be charged for single engine turboprops flying privately.

EBAN also had feedback from an operator of a TBM850 with G1000 avionics who wished to remain anonymous. The contributor said that they were satisfied with the maintenance support, despite it costing a lot as it is carried out directly by the manufacturer and it is not easy to anticipate when additional work will be required. Routine maintenance on the aircraft is now carried out every 200 hours. They were impressed with the dispatch reliability and have encountered no problems in this regard, and the same applies with the operating capability of the machine. “It can perform to an exceptionally high level and is reliable in any weather,” they said. The aircraft is also considered to be fast and fuel efficient.

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