Our 'Me & My Aircraft' series continues this month with a round-up of cabin class piston twins, as EMEA operators and owners provide insight on their Avgas-burning, utilitarian machines.
Steve Rogers of Aradian Aviation in Guernsey operates a 1994 Beech Baron 58, which he says is very well maintained by MCA Aviation at Shoreham. He is also pleased with dispatch: “It has been excellent. In all the years that I have owned the aircraft it has only let me down once, and that was due to a failure of the past MRO to check an item when it was due – it failed not long afterwards.
“The Baron does everything I require of it. It might take a little longer than a jet or a turboprop, but it is a damn sight cheaper to run.
“Flying one offers both flexibility and security. You can feel secure in bad weather and we get plenty of that in Guernsey in the winter.”
He cannot think of any bad attributes for the aircraft, and his most desirable upgrade is modern avionics. “However, I never got lost using the old ones,” he concludes.
Tyrone Courtman flies a Cessna 310R for pleasure and for corporate purposes as head of PKF Cooper Parry's corporate restructuring team, a business advisory practice in the UK which recently relocated to East Midlands airport.
He is very enthusiastic about the aircraft and cites performance, its load carrying capability and looks as its strongest features. “It still remains a personal rocket ship and I love the wide cabin,” he remarks. He feels that maintenance costs - as a result of SID routines - are the worst aspect of the aircraft, but adds that it still looks as though 'it was designed and built only yesterday' despite being 40 years old. "It is a real testament to the original design," he concludes. "You can't buy new anymore, even if you wanted to, as production ceased in 1982. With fewer of them still flying, they have become a classic."
Grup Air-Med's Javier Hevia has Partenavia P68s based in Spain, including the P68B, P68C, P68 Observer II and P68C-TC. He is satisfied with every aspect of the aircraft, and is particularly happy with its safety and operating cost. He is less impressed with service for spares, as parts can often take a long time to arrive.
Rene Jorgensen of Dane Swede Aviation has a Piper PA31-325CR. He is satisfied with maintenance support, dispatch reliability, operating capability and value.
Armand G. Baccala operates a PA34-220T for German-speaking Swiss media company Bluewin.ch. He is satisfied with the maintenance support he receives but says that it is too expensive. Dispatch is also very satisfactory, and he describes the aircraft as 'self dispatch'. However, Baccala is unhappy with the overall value of the aircraft. “It is iDEAl for CPL, IR and IMC training,” he comments. “But the suction pumps, magneto-clutches and TBO have too short a lifespan.” He would like to upgrade to glass avionics and a light turboprop.
Jon Gretar Sigurdsson flies two Piper PA31-350s with Atlantsflug, an Icelandic company which offers volcano viewing flights. He is extremely satisfied with the aircraft: “The Navajo is strong, powerful and good to operate into outback airports; that goes for the PA31-350 Chieftain we now operate as well.”
Fuel burn is an issue however. “When you compare this to the money invested it is a little disappointing.” He is currently looking for an interior upgrade and repaint, and perhaps some avionics.
Compagnia Generale Aeronautica's Giuseppe Ottonello has a PA34-200T. The Italian operator is a Part 145 maintenance station certified for all Piper single and twin piston engines. He is very pleased with dispatch and operating capability and says that the aircraft is 'easy and safe to fly'.
“The propellor blades have a low ground clearance. I would like to install diesel engines when available,” he says.
Juergen Meyer-Brenkhof flies two Partenavia P68s for Sylt Air in Germany. “I personally have flown them both for hundreds of hours IFR and VFR and, to sum it up, I love this aircraft,” he says. “It is reliable and easy to fly, has a reasonable speed of about 140 knots, and can also be flown slowly and safely into short fields with soft surfaces.
“It is very easy and forgiving on the touchdown. This makes for a very soft landing, so much so that the passengers sometimes don't even notice the touchdown. This is what the Americans would call a 'greaser' landing, as if there was grease between the runway and the aircraft.”
He admits that the entrance is a bit tight for five passengers, and crew space is also at a premium. But this is not a major worry for him: “I think Italians are a bit shorter on average!
“With the carburettor version you can climb to FL 90 with a full load. Range is good, especially with the extra tanks, and it is more than sufficient for most charter flights. Winter flying or icing is a thing you should not perform without thorough planning. The air intakes ice up quickly, and you should use alternate air at an early stage if you do not want the intakes to clog up. The rubber anti-ice boots have do be used wisely.
“In short, it is more fun to fly them in the summer time or in temperatures above the freezing level. The heating system in my opinion is not too efficient, the engines sit on the wings and the heated air has a long way to travel to your freezing feet.”
He finishes by saying that maintenance costs are fair, and also praises the 'excellent' fixed landing gear. The aircraft handles crosswinds well and is a 'delight to fly.'
“We use it for survey flights over the North Sea as well, to spot birds or small whales for biological missions. We use bubble windows and, due to the high wing, it provides good visibility for the scientists.”
Peter Bondar is responsible for nine Diamond DA42s at Diamond Executive Aviation in the UK. “I think the key thing that we have observed is that dispatch reliability improves if you have got a uniform fleet,” he says. “We have an Islander too but find that the 42s are far more reliable, because if we encounter a minor issue or fault then you can resolve it quickly, especially with in-house engineers. Either you will have parts in stock, or you can take something from one aircraft to get another aircraft operational.
“The 42 is one of the few new piston twins that are operating commercially; most are quite old. It has got the benefit of being designed much later in life and uses more modern parts than the 1940s or 50s aircraft. For those two reasons it achieves, in our hands, better than 99.5 per cent dispatch reliability.”