Bombardier, manufacturer of the world’s largest western civilian turboprop aircraft, the DHC-8 Q400, today launched the 90 seat variant at the Singapore Airshow, making the largest airplane even larger in terms of capacity, without so much as stretching the airplane by an inch.
The Q400 usually seats 78 passengers in a single class with a 30 inch seat pitch. In 2013, Bombardier had launched the 86 seat variant of the Q400, with Nok Air of Thailand as the launch customer. The 86 seat variant offered a seat pitch of 29 inches, by shifting the aft galley into the aft cargo hold, thereby reducing aft cargo space by 20%, and doing away with the forward baggage hold.
This made the case for Bombardier to announce a 90 seat variant with a seat pitch of 28 inches. To add an extra 4 seats, or one row, Bombardier is, according to Flightglobal, will push back the rear bulkhead and reconfigure the front right hand door. To make the airplane more attractive, Bombardier is increasing the 90 seat variant’s payload by 900 kg, and proposing an escalation of the A-Check and C-Check intervals from 600/6,000 to 800/8,000 flight hours. The 90 seat variant is expected to enter service as early as 2018, provided Bombardier secures a launch customer for the type.
Why at the Singapore Airshow?
There are four reasons why ATR and Bombardier are focusing on South East Asia. First, the geography and infrastructure of countries is such that connectivity within the country is best offered by short haul air transport. Second, the region is comprised of developing nations, where the end customers, the passengers, are very price sensitive. Third, demand for travel is rising. Fourth, the average height of the population is much shorter than the western world.
Turboprops are excellent for short and thin routes. Average ticket prices can only be lowered if the cost per seat falls further. The same airplane packing more seats lowers the cost per seat per flight, which allows airlines to compete better using pricing as a tool. The 90 seat variant may reduce the cost per seat by as much as 11-13% when compared to the 78 seat variant, and by 3-4% when compared to the 86 seat variant. Packing more seats reduces the seat pitch, which would have been a repulsive product to sell to passengers in the western world. But in South East Asia, the lower average height makes a 28 inch seat pitch comfortable. South East Asians are, on average, one of the shortest in the world.
Bombardier had launched the 86 seat variant at Dubai, but the launch airline is from a South East Asian country. Knowing that any demand for ultra high density aircraft variants will only come from Asia, Singapore Airshow 2016, Asia’s biggest commercial aerospace and defense exhibition, had to be the platform of choice.
With its unwavering focus on meeting its certification program goal of 2,500 hours within 12 months since its first flight on June 14th 2013, Airbus has sent its second A350, MSN 3 (F-WGZZ) to Bolivia, South America, where high altitude tests will be conducted. The tests will be conducted at El Alto International Airport (IATA: LPB, ICAO: SLLP) at La Paz, which is at 13,325ft MSL and has a 13,123ft long east to west runway, and at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport (IATA: CBB, ICAO: SLCB) at Cochabamba, which is at 8,360ft MSL and has a 12,460 ft long south-east to north-west facing runway.
The aircraft landed in Bolivia on 7th January, 2014.
This is the first time that the A350 has crossed the boundaries of Europe, and for the first time undertaken a trans-Atlantic flight, flying for the first time into South America.
According to Airbus, “Operations at such high altitude airfields are particularly demanding on aircraft engines, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and systems. The aim of these trials is to demonstrate and validate the full functionality of engines, systems, materials as well as to assess the overall aircraft behaviour under these extreme conditions. A number of take-offs with all engines operating and with simulated engine failures are being performed at each of the airfields to collect data on engine operating characteristics and validate the aircraft take-off performance. The autopilot behaviour will also be evaluated during automatic landings and go-arounds."
MSN-3 is planned to spend around a week at Bolivia.
Till date, the A350 program has accumulated 800 flight test hours in about 200 flights flown by MSN 1 (F-WXWB) and MSN 3 (F-WGZZ), resulting in an average of 4 hours of testing per test flight. The third A350, MSN- 2, F-WWCF, is assembled and painted, will soon take to the skies, and will be later joined by MSN 4 and MSN 5, to fly test flights in parallel to meet the goal of a 12 month certification program.MSN4 and MSN 5 are being assembled.