The TBM 900/930s are relatively recent incarnations of the long- standing 700/750/800 range. With the 900 launched in 2014 and the 930 two years later, French manufacturer Daher is expecting the relaxation of single engine turbine commercial air transport (SET CAT) rules to provide a new impetus for these versatile and efficient models.
Daher delivered 54 TBMs world-wide in 2016, 10 of which stayed in Europe; four within the UK, two for France and one each in Germany, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. Most sales were of the 930 featuring Garmin's G3000 flight deck, which has the first ever touchscreen-controlled glass flight desk designed for light turbine aircraft. The 900s are equipped with the G1000 all-glass avionics suite, which is enhanced for 2017 with the G1000NXi next generation integrated flight deck with two-way wireless cockpit connectivity. Aftermarket support is offered as standard through the TBM Care Program. It covers all scheduled maintenance costs for five years or 1,000 hours, whichever comes first, and includes maintenance tracking and monitoring. This minimises the TBM's operational costs and the programme remains, according to senior vice president of the Daher Airplane Business Unit Nicolas Chabbert, a unique asset for the [TBM] owner/operator. And for small operators that don't have a big support organisation behind them it is definitely a hit.
The TBM 700 was initially designed for the owner-pilot market. This is strongest in North America, which explains why around 80 per cent of Daher's deliveries are to this continent. “Over the years more and more businesses have chosen the TBM for its outstanding cost-performance ratio,” says Mark Diaz, director of international TBM sales. “The corporate flight department of Ohio, USA-based propeller manufacturer and equipment supplier Hartzell operates three TBMs. And in 2009, a US company suffering the effects of the previous year's financial crisis, decided not to sell its TBMs as they were easily mission worthy.”
The next frontier: SET rule changes
Alongside its success with owner-pilots the TBM family is well suited for public passenger transport. Changes to airworthiness regulations for SET aircraft from EASA will have huge implications for Daher. At the time of the announcement of intent in July 2016, Chabbert commented: “The committee's positive vote reflects the well-established safety record of single-engine turbine aircraft, and enables continental Europe to join other regions of the world, including the US, where commercial air transport operations have been approved for some time.” The company is already seeing increased deployment of the TBM for on-demand charter.
“Progress is already being made in the UK [by Ravenair] on the first TBM 900 application, but aircraft have been active in Canada since 1994, in the USA since 1998, and in Australia and South Africa from 2000,” adds Diaz. “Within Europe, France approved its first AOC for SET-IMC operations in 2013, to Voldirect. So there are a lot of templates around. For us, it's the next frontier.”
There seem to be territorial profiles for utilisation and piloting. “In Brazil they are very efficient flyers and four or five seats are usually filled, whereas in the US it may only be one or two. Even when I'm in Australia there will be three or four people onboard,” says Diaz.
“In the US, 95 per cent are owner-flown and in Australia it is nearer 60 per cent. I'm keen to see what the breakdown will be in Europe once the public transport ruling goes through.” He also envisages a split between outright purchase and fractional ownership: “There are some owners who can't afford a brand new jet and are only flying 100 hours a year. Connecting people up is going to bring benefits, which is why we launched the 'fly and charter your TBM' programme. Its main focus is to bring TBM owners and AOCs together, aided by Daher's technical expertise and guidance.”
A firm stronghold in the SET arena
A single pressurised turboprop provides fast transportation at low cost and this can bring benefits to special missions such as organ transportation. It burns just 37 US gallons per hour so costs are reduced, and pressurisation brings increases in speed as it is possible to fly faster at 28,000 ft (max. cruise). Pressurisation also improves patient comfort as the aircraft flies at high altitude over the turbulence, and it provides sufficient air ventilation. Diaz says: “Our first Thailand-based TBM 930, delivered in December 2016, is doing a lot of heart and organ transplant transfers. Its owner has been volunteering a significant amount of time through his company AC Aviation, flying out to the donor patients and returning with donated organs.”
This type of operation also highlights the performance of the TBM current standard equipment. “Where you may have fatigued crew in night- and all-weather scenarios, the Garmin G3000 has proved a very powerful tool in terms of resources and processing speed,” he continues. It offers flexibility by enabling the pilot to organise the flight deck exactly as they prefer, and encourages good resource management. “When I can display everything on five or six screens by splitting the primary flight displays and splitting the multi-function display, rarely do I have to go deep into a menu to access it. The G3000 is nice because I have heads-up information when I want and need it.”
On a recent trip returning from Krasnodar, Russia, over the Black Sea, Diaz didn't have the permits to go south but faced difficult territory to the north. Having the G3000 helped him to plot the course: “We were clipping along at 328 knots all the way to Corfu in Greece, where we had lunch, and then the next stop was Tarbes in France. So the aircraft is capable of really good long legs. Even when you are doing 330 kts this is still a significant distance.”
For those who prefer a physical keypad, Daher has also been working on the G1000NXi, the latest version of the G1000. “Some people might want USB power up front or in the back,” Diaz says, “and as crazy as it sounds, the least expensive electrical component is one of the most sought after. Just being able to charge a device is great, because once you get to a remote area you may not have power adapters but you will need to be able to communicate.”
The TBM is a dynamic platform that has evolved according to customers' needs. “We won't see a heavy flow of traffic yet with the US dollar as strong as it is,” he continues, “so most of the TBMs will probably continue to go to North America. But for France, and the UK especially, 2016 was an excellent year for TBM 900s and 930s.” The e-co-pilot is an early 2016 improvement which helps the single pilot to keep the aircraft within the safe flight envelope. It includes an angle-of-attack indicator, under-speed protection, emergency descent mode and voice warnings. “There are so many additional safety features in the realm of avionics now. The emphasis on safety in design is phenomenal,” Diaz adds. “You can get voice alerts that say 'landing gear' instead of just beeping. We have worked with other OEMs of larger aircraft to see where they are with voice alerts, and then took ours in a direction we felt was favourable for a single engine, single pilot aircraft. We wanted good, crystal clear information.”
TBM 930 owner and pilot Mark Onyett is based in Nottingham in the UK and flies to the French Alps for his skiing and summer holidays. He sometimes flies around Europe on business trips, but for the most part keeps to the UK skies. And while he has flown across the North Atlantic a couple of times, it wasn't in the TBM but the Piper Malibu turbine conversion jetprop that he owned previously.
Onyett bought his factory-new TBM 930 just over three months ago. “It is a great aircraft and feels a lot more solid, stable and chunky than the jetprop I had before,” he says. The main reason for upgrading was weight: “I have three children, and with five of us in the aircraft, even with relatively little fuel, I was struggling in the Malibu from a weight and balance point of view, whereas in the TBM you have got much more capacity. I did consider the PC-12, but that just felt like too much of a bus for my needs, more like a commercial airliner that you use for yourself rather than a personal private plane.”
He chose the 930 over the 900 because he preferred the avionics; it is easier to enter data on the touch-screen thanks to the slightly higher resolution. And it has certain systems fitted as standard, such as ESP technology, although these can be retrofitted to the 900.
Overall the TBM 930 has access advantages over a jet to certain airfields. He adds: “Nottingham City airport is 1,000 metres long so you are limited to a turboprop. You would struggle with any jet that you could get five passengers in and a decent amount of fuel. I fly to Fairoaks, Denham, and other small airfields, and I quite like the utility of the turboprop.”
It takes an hour and 45 minutes for the TBM to get to Chambery in the Alps, whereas in a jet it could take just an hour and a quarter. “But by the time I have driven to East Midlands airport it doesn't really save me any time,” he adds. “The TBM offers great utility and it is quick. The jetprop was 255 kts and this is 325-330 kts. You definitely notice the difference, particularly if you get a headwind. Even over longer distances such as here to Greece, you can go from Nottingham to Corfu in three and a half hours if you get a decent tailwind. That's very useful.”
When mapping out a possible US trip Onyett noticed that if there was a reasonably good wind he could save a couple of stops in the TBM compared to the Malibu. He could even go from Nottingham direct to Keflavik, and then Keflavik to Goose Bay if the weather was good enough, and if he really wanted to fly over all that water. “The TBM definitely gives you more range,” he says. “I think I'll be keeping this for quite a few years, because although you take a bit of a hit on depreciation by buying a new one, the five-year servicing and five-year warranty are pretty good. If you have any niggles they can easily be fixed, which eliminates a lot of stress from an owner's point of view.”
No longer lacking a lavatory
“The main limitation for me, and this probably comes down to having kids, is that there is no toilet on board,” says Onyett. “For a trip lasting four and a half or five hours, that can be daunting, but as with most small aircraft, once you are around the four hour mark you want a break anyway. And you can go four hours in the TBM if you want to, because you have got the range.”
Daher has listened to its owners and all 2017 models can now be configured to accommodate the new Elite Privacy enclosure, a quick-change option that integrates a lavatory area in the TBM's aft fuselage. Serving as a bench-type seat with a low divider wall when not in use during flight, it converts to a fully private toilet compartment at the touch of a button.
A different league
“I am still just as enthusiastic about the aircraft as I was when I first got it,” says TBM 930 owner and Swiss businessman Paolo Buzzi-Jonsson. He purchased his aircraft last year and has been using it for business and family leisure trips, predominantly to Sweden, Norway and Malta. It is his first foray into the TBM range; previously he owned an Extra 500.
“The aircraft is very fast, powerful and nice to fly. My home airport is Lausanne, a VFR airport, so I like to feel this aircraft on approach. There is a lot of pleasure in it,” he says. “It's a small airport so you always have to land visually, which is good fun.”
He is impressed with the Garmin 3000 avionics which he finds intuitive and quite easy to manage compared to the Avidyne flight deck used on the Extra 500. Its synthetic vision gives it good capacity and capability, and the TBM has been comfortable to fly on trips to Oslo, Luxembourg and other difficult airports.
He usually flies quite high with it, up to the type's FL310 ceiling, at which altitude it uses less fuel. It is, however, quite cold up there in the winter: “When you pack your bags you need to have some blankets.” Perhaps a better heating system inside would be on an owner's wish list. Daher has made a number of other improvements to the old variants in order to improve comfort, including leather seats and a pilot door.
The maximum number of passen-gers Buzzi-Jonsson has carried is five, and he likes the 100 kg aft luggage capacity and, again, its impressive avionics. But for him its main asset is speed: “This is a real advantage because you can earn a lot of time as a result.”
For now he is very happy with his investment and he wants to keep the aircraft for at least three years: “Perhaps I will step up to something else, but not yet. I like to have a turboprop, and it being single engine is good too. You don't have the headaches of setting up NCC or other complicated infrastructures. For now it is best for me to have an aircraft that can take off and land in remote locations, quickly and affordably. If you go up to a jet you need a different kind of airport and extra infrastructure.”
Cost-to-speed ratio benefits today's entrepreneur
Last summer Flying Smart, the authorised distributor for the UK and Ireland, delivered the first UK-based 930 to owner/operator and pilot Attila Balogh, CEO of European company Partner in Pet Food. Having obtained an Instrument Rating in 2010, Balogh began using one of his two Cirrus SR22Ts for business trips. He realised he needed to upgrade to turbine power and conducted an extensive review to see which aircraft best fit his mission profile.
His Cirrus had the Garmin 1000 (Perspective) which was an excellent platform, but Balogh had also flown a number of entry level jets which, like the TBM 930, had the G3000. The G3000 information is easier to access and the split screen displays eliminate the need to switch pages. There are fewer steps to go through.
He also knew that the the Garmin 1000 was originally introduced in 2007 with the Mustang, so arguably it was 10-year-old technology. “The G3000 was newer technology so I thought that it would be a better platform to have, both for the plane as a whole and for the pilot,” he concludes.
Balogh's Cirrus lacked pressur-isation, speed and range; it was difficult to get above the clouds. He had also looked at the Mustang, the M2, the Phenom 100, the Eclipse and a Pilatus, but for him the TBM came out on top. “The performance is excellent in terms of speed and efficiency and the cost is fantastic,” he continues. “When you buy a new one you get free maintenance for five years, or 1,000 hours. For that time period, all I really have to do is buy fuel, oil and brake pads; everything else is covered by the manufacturer. I haven't had any squawks with the plane. After taking delivery in August 2016 I completed the class rating, which took approximately ten days. Then I flew around 50 hours with a safety pilot and got to experience a variety of in-flight situations including ice encounters and night flight.”
He based his test flights on what for him is a typical mission; three hour legs going from the UK to Budapest, Prague or Warsaw. “I thought the TBM was a great aircraft and was toying with which of the 900 and the 930 to get,” he says. “Finally I decided that despite the higher cost the 930 was more suitable, for all the reasons I've mentioned already. We got it, flew it and did some training for ten days. I had the opportunity to fly it every day, including weekends, prior to purchase. In all that time I didn't find any problems. It has been brilliant from a customer service perspective.”
Balogh's company turns over about $250m in sales, employs 1,400 people and has customers throughout Europe who he visits on a weekly basis. “The TBM affords me the flexibility to be able to visit our customers, factories and sales companies in a very efficient way. Quite often I can be in three different countries for meetings in one day, and if one lasts longer than expected, then I don't have to run the risk of missing my flight and staying the night.”
For him the TBM provides the best owner/operator aircraft options. It has the speed of an entry level jet at 330 kts and is pressurised, but it allows access to smaller runways in order to land closer to his meeting points. “I can land at small paved airports and ten minutes later I'm at one of our factories. If I had a very light jet I'd probably have to land at a larger airport and then I'd have to take a two-hour car ride. The time savings for me are incredible.”
Over and out
In essence, the TBM 900 and 930 are fast, pressurised and well suited for public passenger transport. They can operate from small airports, have flexible load carrying capacities and there is an option to include a lavatory. The 930 seems to be outselling the 900 despite the higher price, thanks in part to its improved primary avionics, but both models share many characteristics. With full tanks they cruise faster with a greater payload than their predecessors, while also being quieter inside and fitted with more reliable systems. They need only 1,200 meters to take off and land, even at 8,000 ft with temperatures reaching over 30°C. It's an all round star performer: an entry level business aircraft, with good handling qualities and procedures that enable pilot/owners to operate it themselves, with light business jet performance and low operating costs.