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Me & My Aircraft - Twin turboprops: The masters of longevity, twin props offer utility and charter for decades
Operators of twin turboprops often have to contend with the age old question: are propellers safe? The resounding answer is an emphatic yes and for owners in EMEA, safety is only the beginning.
Read this story in our April 2015 printed issue.

Operators of twin turboprops often have to contend with the age old question: are propellers safe? The resounding answer is an emphatic yes and for owners in EMEA, safety is only the beginning. Twin props are capable of a wide breadth of functions, including corporate commuting, organ transportation and leisure trips, the vast majority of which can be carried out to and from short fields with impressive climb performance. As with all of EBAN's 'Me & My Aircraft' features, the only true way to ascertain the quality of the props is by speaking to those who fly them. Here is what they had to say.

KING AIR

A dependable workhorse prevalent in the UK, western and central Europe, and southern Africa.

Jonathan Gordon of Lydd Air in the UK has a fleet of King Air 200s. He suggests that maintenance had been a little difficult previously, but insists that the matter is now 'settled': “We use IAE at Cranfield which we are happy to recommend. We keep close records on dispatch and have at least 98 per cent dispatch reliability. Our biggest issues are with dated avionics.”

He is not convinced that the Blackhawk technology is the best for a non RVSM aircraft, and continues: “The B200 was settled down in the market having always had good market retention prior to the 2008 crash. It is simple to operate and a pleasure to fly, with good all round capability. We encounter old avionics bugs, but this is not the fault of the airframe. I would like to upgrade to G1000 avionics, but on the whole I have to say that Walter Beech got it right with this one.”

Andy Green operates a King Air 90 for the UK's Jota Aviation, with which he is satisfied, by and large: “The only advice I would give to anyone is to find the right maintenance provider and develop a good relationship with them. If you keep switching between MROs it can create a lot of issues and will cost time and money, and I say that from experience.

“Since we started operating King Airs in 2011, we have operated seven different aircraft, including 200s and 90s, and have used seven different MROs. Across that fleet of King Airs, we have had six different variants of PT6A engines, and the age of the fleet has ranged from less than 12 months to 48 years from build. Mix into that the variable avionics fits and propellers and you have a fairly diverse set of technical requirements that your maintenance providers need to be aware of and have the expertise in.

Availability of spares is cited as a restrictive factor in maintenance support on King Airs, and Green attributes this to the technical variations. “You rarely find two King Airs that are technically the same, unlike aircraft in airline fleets which are far more uniform. It is vital in my opinion that as an owner or operator you have control over your maintenance planning and agree with your MRO in advance the work scope required, because it can be very expensive financially and operationally if the MRO is not given those guidelines in advance.

“We have narrowed down to two providers and we have excellent relationships with them. Choosing the right provider and maintaining an understanding relationship with them is vital.”

Dispatch reliability is impressive, and he says that the pilots play a key role in ensuring this: “You must have decent pilots who understand the aircraft and its systems, and you must give them the operational and technical support they need. If you do this, there is little that can disrupt the reliability. They really are a strong and reliable machine if you keep on top of them.”

Good short field capability is the most noticeable advantage operationally according to Green: “It opens up different airfields compared with a light jet which can work well for getting closer to ultimate destinations as well as helping to keep cost down. The range can be fairly good on a King Air, but depending on what missions you are flying that's not necessarily an advantage. On the longer legs a light jet is far more suitable generally for passengers, but if it's carrying boxes of spares it is far less of a problem.

“London to Manchester only takes an extra six minutes in a King Air compared with a CJ2, but London to Malaga will take about an hour more.”

As for the turboprop's value, he says that this is a very subjective matter: “As a charter machine that needs to make money, an older variant takes out a lot of the depreciation risk but is less likely to be popular with the charter brokers. Newer aircraft are of course easier to sell on the charter market but have a much larger capital cost to absorb, which invariably means either a higher charter cost or taking a hit on the depreciation.

“There is a ceiling on what yields you can achieve on a King Air no matter what the age. Values are pretty stable so it allows you to build in those factors. Pound for pound it's hard to think of an aircraft type that represents better value.”

Green's favourite King Air qualities are its operational versatility, generous cabin size, reliability, and low cost, both operationally and in terms of acquisition price. Because Jota employs a good quantity of type rated pilots, its crewing is cost effective.

And the worst thing? Spares once again: “There is a general lack of spares availability in Europe which often grounds aircraft for days while parts are shipped from the US. Another disadvantage is the fact that it has got propellers! Brokers seem to find it difficult to explain a turboprop to some of their end clients. Some are of course educated that a turbine engine is used for both turboprops and for jets. For others they think it's an unreliable, oily old piston engine just because it powers a propeller.”

He would like to upgrade to the King Air 350, as it it reliable and carries eight people in club four configuration with plenty of room. “If I were to be adventurous I would also consider the Piaggio Avanti EVO. It is fast and fuel efficient with a wonderful cabin and is just such an odd looking machine. It is in fact in a class of its own for aerodynamic efficiency. Others think it looks ugly, but I think it looks beautiful.”

Jonathan Rees flies a King Air 200 for Haverfordwest Air Charter Services, trading as FlyWales in the UK. He is very satisfied with all aspects of the aircraft, and cites reliability, short field work and endurance as its most pleasing traits. His most desired upgrade is Garmin avionics.

Frank Achner of Star Wings Dortmund in Germany is satisfied with the maintenance support he receives for his King Air 200 and is very happy with dispatch and operating capability. He says it also offers satisfactory value. Reliability is a strong advantage with his aircraft, and it is also fuel efficient. He is impressed too with its take-off and landing performance with substantial payload. A faster cruising speed is his most desirable upgrade.

Swiss operator Mike Fly Ltd operates a King Air 300. Company director Gert Kroll remarks that although he is very satisfied with the maintenance support he receives, spare parts supply is 'sometimes slow and expensive'. Dispatch reliability is impressive: as high as 95 per cent, and short runway requirements mean that the King Air can carry out 'very flexible missions'. He adds: “The aircraft is very reliable and easy to fly. You can load it with full seats and full tanks.

“On the other hand, when we first purchased it, we encountered many problems within the first 700 flight hours. The factory support at that time was unacceptable.”

Hans-Rudolf Woehrl operates a King Air 350 for Germany's Intro Verwaltungs. He is very satisfied across the board and comments: “It is the most reliable aircraft in this category.”

CESSNA 441

Cessna’s first turboprop still finds favour in parts of EMEA 40 years after its launch.

One respondent replied to us anonymously about their Cessna 441. They were satisfied with maintenance support but said that they had very little help with a Special Inspection Document. They are very satisfied with dispatch and deem the aircraft 'boringly reliable'. It flies well and is both versatile and economical.

“It is fast, inexpensive, reliable, has long range and excellent load carrying ability,” they say. “It is noisy however, and a bit cramped with 10 people on board. Our most desired upgrade is RVSM. Overall, it is a great aircraft.”

EMB-120

France operates the bulk of the Brasilia fleet in Europe; a regional commuting tool.

Nacho Isla flies an EMB-120 for Spanish operator Flightline. He is very happy with maintenance and carries some jobs out in-house while outsourcing others. He is extremely pleased with the Embraer's performance and calls it 'the best and most reliable aircraft with 30 seats; an excellent machine.' The company has its own type rating school for the type.

JETSTREAM

Scandinavia and the UK are regular Jetstream fliers, and it has made its mark across Africa too

Turkish operator Redstar Aviation has a Jetstream 32. Accountable manager Emre Dursun comments that due to the relative rarity of the aircraft, spares are not always readily available and adds: “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 compared to the mid-range jet aircraft. We have been mainly utilising the aircraft for ambulance purposes, and the Jetstream 32 offers a spacious cabin. This makes life easier for our medical team and comfortable for patients and relatives.”

In his opinion, the Jetstream offers great value for money: “Considering the initial investment for purchase and low operating cost, it is an ideal aircraft for regional operators.

“The cabin is one of the largest and most spacious in its class, with ample headroom even when standing. When used in the medevac role, the cabin is roomier still, allowing medical crews to work with considerable ease. In addition, the high and hot performance of this aircraft is good when compared to similar aircraft in its class. The 19-seat capacity distinguishes the Jetstream 32 from its competitors in the market.”

One of the few downsides of the aircraft is its reduced efficiency on long-range missions over 1,400nm.

“My most desired upgrade is an improved avionics package. The Super 31/3200 model has more powerful engines and many issues with the original aircraft have been solved.

“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 this feature makes it a favourite for passengers and crew alike.”

PIPER CHEYENNE

Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria are loyal to the six-seat PA-31T and nine-seat PA-42.

Michel Reinhardt operates a Piper Cheyenne based in Germany. He remarks that spare parts for the aircraft can be hard to come by, and are fairly expensive as a result. But for him it is 'a real workhorse' and he is enthusiastic about its operational capability: “Our Cheyenne has -135 engines, RAM air cowlings and five blade MP props. It cruises at 280 kts.”

He describes the value as 'unbeatable' and adds that it is a shame that the Cheyenne series has been discontinued. “It is easy to operate, very fast and reliable; the total cost of ownership is very low.” His aircraft already has the desired upgrades.

Walter Ebm has a Cheyenne which he operates for Businessair Flugzeugverlieh in Austria. He is satisfied with the maintenance support he receives, while dispatch reliability and performance are good, and he is very pleased with its value. “The best thing about the aircraft is its spaciousness and payload,” he says. “The age is a disadvantage. I would like to upgrade with a five blade prop.”

METRO

A robust 19-seat transporter no longer in production but still in service in central and southern Europe.

Danish operator North Flying operates a Metro aircraft. Flight operations director Bruno Sorensen is very satisfied with the aircraft, and says that it is capable of good range with a full complement of passengers. He considers it noisy, and the most desirable upgrade for him is PRNAV.

Nacho Isla's Flightline operates five Metros and the company carries out some of its own maintenance in-house. He is delighted with his fleet: “For me there is not another type of aircraft that can do what this one can do, for the same money and with the same service.

“There are no alternatives for our business and if there were, I believe it would be a very expensive machine which would not give you the same service. As for upgrade options, I would say the only ones are the Beech 1900 and the EV 55.”

The Metro is especially well suited to cargo missions in Isla's opinion, owing to its versatility, speed and reliability. “It is not the best machine for passengers but it can say that it is the best machine for cargo in this category.”

PIAGGIO AVANTI

Italian design with the latest technology, and the advanced EVO imminent.

Daniela Flierl of AirGo in Germany operates a fleet of Piaggio P180 Avantis. She says the support she receives is excellent: “We have 24/7 availability for maintenance support. AOG – which doesn't happen very often – is covered very professionally. There are different maintenance facilities in Europe able to provide ad hoc repair in the field.

“During the first years a new Avanti has close to zero AOG. Of course at a certain age it might happen, but not often. We have a fleet of four and we have had hardly any situations where we cannot perform a booked flight.”

She says that AirGo has a motto for its Avantis: “Is it a turboprop? Is it a jet? No, it is an Avanti.” The P180 combines an ability to fly to very short runways as well as providing the speed of a jet and the cabin of a midsize. This makes it a very flexible aircraft which can be used in many types of operation. It is still economical on short routings, and fast enough with good range for long flights. With the option of a bigger tank the endurance can be increased still further.”

Flierl believes there is still a good market value for well maintained and operated aircraft, and sees the best thing about the Avanti type as its relationship between comfort and price, saying that similar specification aircraft will come with double the price tag. There are a few downsides nonetheless: “Due to the speeds and flight levels flown the paint on the forward wing is heavily affected by damages. But we'll have a solution very soon for touch up and painting of leading edges.

“The only thing missing on the aircraft is an APU,” she says. AirGo has operated the Avanti for more than 12 years.

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