Proud to fly a Turboprop: Q400 vs ATR72

It’s time for another A vs. B comparison. This time around though, it isn’t between Airbus and Boeing, but the world’s two most popular regional turboprop aircraft, the ATR-72 and the Bombardier Q400.

The Indian short haul segment was, and is ruled by the ATR 42 and the ATR 72 turboprop aircraft. A product of the venture between Alenia Aerospace of Italy and European Consortium EADS, the ATR enjoys a monopolistic presence at the small airfields of India, low traffic density routes, or the challenging airfields of the north and the north east. If it’s one aircraft that most airfields know, it’s the ATR 72/42. No other aircraft flies to as many airfields as does this family.

Unsurprisingly, this extremely popular ATR 72 is also the most dreaded amongst the

Q400 in Spicejet Colors

flying public. The stereotyped image of an aircraft with propellers forces many to raise their eyebrows. But the flights are short and the fares low, making the experience bearable. But to the airlines, its aircraft like the ATR that bring in the money. No wonder that Kingfisher employs 25 ATR 72-500, while Jet flies 20 of the same type. It’s much more economical to operate a turboprop than a jet. Any day.

Not being the first airline in the country that employs aircraft type that are in appearance different from the aircraft type that their airline name suggests, Spicejet is poised to please Bombardier with the gradual introduction of 15 Q400 turboprop aircraft, to fly missions similar to the ATR 72-500. And for the first time in India, the public may in fact be “Proud to fly a turboprop”. With a quiet cabin that is quieter than some jet airplanes, seats that are claimed to be more comfortable, windows that allow for a greater view of the magnificent terrain, huge overhead stowage that can fit your trolley bags, and speeds that lag a jet by only 3-5 minutes on a typical 1 hr route, while being much cheaper than a jet aircraft of comparable capacity, the Q400 will deliver a jet experience at a turboprop’s economics. Poised to revolutionise the experience of short haul flight, are the “DASHing” Q400 NextGens from Bombardier Aerospace.

In this article, focus shall be on the Q400 NextGen, while also fairly comparing the two aircraft that will divide the short haul skies over the Indian subcontinent. Sit back and relax, while we serve you the turboprop of your choice.

Turboprop in India

It was in the October of 1999 when an ATR72-500 was inducted by Jet Airways, marking the dawn of the turboprop era amongst private carriers in India. According to Nikos Kardassis, CEO of Jet Airways, “The turboprop is ideal from a cost perspective to service small feeder routes given the traffic (demand) to capacity (supply) ratios and more importantly for their operational economics. Given this rationale we have felt that the turboprop is ideal for some destinations on our domestic network. These aircraft are especially ideal when it comes to providing air links to smaller towns and cities given that some of the existing airports have only just been remodelled to accommodate such smaller aircraft.” The economics of a turboprop made immediate sense on short haul routes, opening markets previously considered unprofitable to operate on. Air Deccan, which was all about economics, started operations with four ATR 42-500s in the August of 2003. Kingfisher Airlines inducted their first ATR 72-500 in the March of 2006. In a business which promises hairline profits, turboprop aircraft seem to be the only way to open up new markets and still make profit with low load factors. But the subcontinent knew only one manufacturer: ATR.

The need for something better

Kingfisher Airline’s Bangalore-Pune sector has a block time of 1hr 20 minutes when operated by their Airbus A320. The same sector, when operated by their ATR 72-500, takes 2hours. This ATR flight operates at close to midnight, when passenger traffic is low, and speed is of no great concern. But at other times of the day, when demand is high on other short haul sectors, one would foresee the need to introduce an aircraft that can fly a similar number of passengers, with similar operating costs, while generating a higher revenue potential by operating more flights per day. To reword, an aircraft that flies almost as fast as a jet and yet, is as economical as a turboprop: the ideal crossbreed.

The “PropJet”

Considering that Spicejet would like to honour the last three letters in their airline name, the airline placed a firm order for 15 Bombardier Q400s towards the last quarter of 2010, with options on another 15. The Q400 is Bombardier’s answer for a regional turboprop that replaces a jet, while behaving like a jet and yet, significantly reducing aircraft noise and fuel consumption.

The Q400 and the ATR 72 aircraft are both twin engine, turbo prop aircraft capable of carrying around 70 passengers. Both aircraft have a high wing, with six bladed propellers attached to Pratt & Whitney engines on the wing. Both sport a “T” tail, and four abreast seating. The -600 variant of the ATR 72 features a full glass cockpit, much like that on the Q400. This is where the similarities end.

The Q400 is a much longer aircraft, which appears sleeker, with a spine running all the way from the wing box to the rudder. The engines are larger, and extend beyond the trailing edge, unlike the ATR 72 wherein the engine pods taper off under the wing itself. The main landing gear are housed and hinged to the engines, rather than to the belly like in an ATR. The fuselage of the Q400 appears “clean” due to the absence of this belly. The nose of a Q400 is longer and sharper, while that of the ATR is smaller, and blunt. If one were to go by appearances, the Q400’s looks speak of speed, power and aggressiveness. The ATR 72 appears docile. Here are two cases where one may judge books by their covers, and not be disappointed by their true performance characteristics.

To start with, the Q400 and the ATR72-500/600 are similar in weight, but the Q400 is equipped with engines that deliver nearly twice the power of any variant of the ATR 72. The Q400 can cruise comfortably at a max speed of 360kts, while the ATR 72 cruises at a maximum of 276kts. On a sector that takes 2 hours for the ATR 72 to fly, the Q400 can easily fly in under 1 hour 40 minutes, slower than a jet by only around 15 minutes. While the ATR 72 struggles to climb to its service ceiling of 25,000ft (FL250), the Q400 reaches this altitude in minutes. Of course, this performance doesn’t come free: the Q400 can land up consuming nearly 30% more fuel than the ATR 72-500 on the same sector. But attempting to offset the cost of enhanced fuel consumption is its capacity to carry between 6 to 12 more passengers than the ATR 72, at speeds that are jet-like, while consuming much less fuel than a jet of comparable seating capacity.

Designed with the performance of a jet but the technology and economics of a turboprop, the Q400 stands out as a true regional “PropJet”.


ATR72 vs Q400 usage in a given operational day

The primary motivation for a scheduled operator, and more importantly a low cost carrier, to invest in an aircraft is the economics that it promises.

The biggest boon to regional turboprop aircraft operators in India is that their turbine fuel is under the declared goods category, attracting a sales tax of only 4% as compared to 28% for other aircraft weighing above 40,000kgs. Topping that is the exemption from landing charges for aircraft with less than 80 seats. Since both aircraft fall into these categories, the economics of a turboprop start making immediate sense.

The average sector distance in the regionally dense portion of India, the south, is 300NM. Considering that at high speed cruise the Q400 takes an average 1hr02min of flying time, and the ATR 72 takes 1hr15min, and that both aircraft start operations at 6:00am local, and wrap up by 11:30pm local, the Q400 can easily fit one extra flight in that 17.5 hour period.

Over and above this, the Q400 that Spicejet will receive will be configured with 78 seats. The ATR 72’s in Jet Airways are configured with 66 seats in some and 68 in the other. In Kingfisher, all the aircraft absorbed from erstwhile Deccan are configured with 72 seats while the rest are configured with 66 seats. As a result, the Q400 lands up with a capacity of 6 to 12 more passengers per flight.

Considering that both airplanes have the same hours in the air, that the Q400’s overpowered engines spend lesser time at a high power to reach cruising altitude, and that the Q400’s engines are not used on ground in the “Hotel” mode like in the ATR, the expected cost of maintenance of both airplanes may be considered similar, though the Q400 has strong reasons to be cheaper to maintain. Landing charges don’t apply to both airplanes, and both airplanes may need two sets of crew to operate the flights in that 17.5 hour period. However, the most significant operational cost, especially in India, is fuel: The Q400’s fuel consumption is nearly 30% more than that of the ATR72 under similar 300NM environmental conditions in high speed cruise.

Bombardier claims that in a European Environment, the 78 seat Q400’s direct operating

Revenue Potential of the Q400 when compared to a 66 seat ATR 72 and a 72 seat ATR 72

costs (DOC) for a 300Nm sector is 8.8% more than that of a 68 seat ATR72-500. ATR on the other hand claims that in the same environment, the DOC for a 300Nm sector for a Q400 is 25% more than the ATR72-500. Considering that Bombardier and ATR are on the extreme ends of the estimating scale, an average of 16.9% reveals that over this 17.5hr period, the Q400 will cost 1.3 times more to operate than the ATR72-500. Considering ATR72 seating capacities of 66, 68 and 72 passengers, the Q400 has 1.31, 1.27, and 1.2 times the revenue generating potential of the ATR72-500 respectively, in the same day. If one were to go by these figures, the Q400 doesn’t do well against a 68 or 72 seat capacity ATR72. In fact, even if one were to consider Bombardier’s figures, and compare them with an ATR72 with 72 seats, the Q400 will only fare as well as the ATR72 (despite the extra flight on the Q400) as far as this conservative, non-operator specific economical comparison is considered.

While available revenue seats, as used in the comparison above, is only indicative of potential, one may appreciate that load factors, which are dependent on seasons, play a big role in profits. The ATR72s in India may break even with a passenger load of around 20-25 passengers. As per Bombardier, considering a low cost carrier’s cost and fare structure, the Q400 in the US and European 300Nm environment breaks even at 45 seats. This means that the Q400 operator must sell significantly more seats per flight just to break even.

Finally, the acquisition price of both aircraft: The Q400 is listed at approximately US$30M, which is US$7M pricier than the US$23 million list price of the ATR 72-600. While these are list prices, usually, the market price is at a discount from the list price which varies based on the aircraft quantity and individual airline negotiation and deals.


i. Ground handling

Q400 v/s ATR 72-500 Cabin Layout and Doors

The Q400 that Spicejet will receive will have a single class cabin with 78 revenue seats at a 30″ seat pitch; all seats facing forward. With the same comfortable 30″ seat pitch, the ATR72 can seat 72 passengers; However, this will include two rear facing seats, causing significant discomfort and loss of privacy for six passengers.

The Q400 has forward and rear passenger doors on the left, and a service door on the aft right hand side. Passenger boarding is from the front door, and not amongst the chaos of the galley service like in an ATR where both passenger boarding and galley service occur at the aft doors.

The Q400 has significantly larger cargo compartments with significantly larger access doors as compared to the ATR72. The cargo holds are dedicated and not segmented, unlike in an ATR72 where the main cargo hold situated at the forward fuselage is segmented to allow cockpit access. Besides, both cargo sections on a Q400 may be accessed completely from the outside, unlike in the ATR where the rear cargo hold must be accessed from within the cabin. Considering the higher cargo volumetric efficiency, the Q400 has 156% (438ft3) the effective cargo volume of the ATR72 (281ft3).

When it comes to cargo loading, the ATR72’s forward cargo section is easier to load, as the cargo floor is about 1meter high. However, in the Q400, the forward compartment is seldom used for passenger baggage, and the rear cargo hold, which is about 1.5 high, will require the use of a mobile ramp to load cargo, as is done with a European Q400 operator.

Both the ATR 72 and the Q400 can comfortably be turned around in 25 minutes.

ii. Ground Power

The ATR72 has a feature by which the right hand engine may be put in the “Hotel Mode”, wherein the engine is kept running at idle power, but the propellers prevented from rotating by propeller brakes. In this Hotel mode, the ATR72 is supplied with electrics for aircraft power, and pneumatics for air conditioning. Although the concept of saving costs and maintenance time by using a normal engine for ground operation sounds good, it poses some major drawbacks. For one, ground personnel which need access to the right side of the aircraft cannot approach the aircraft when the engine is still running because of the safety hazard involved with a propeller brake that may suddenly give way, and secondly because of the hot gases from the downward pointing exhaust. This prevents aircraft refuelling, while also mandates the service door to be closed. In such a case, the galley needs to be refilled from the passenger entry, leaving the aircraft with only one entrance and exit for the crew, passengers, and service.

Besides, in case of a 10kt tailwind in this “Hotel” mode, a nacelle overheat warning may be generated. For this, the operating manual recommends parking the Aircraft with the nose 45° right to the upwind. However, parking stands do not allow for such flexibility.

Due to these multitude reasons, the crew shut it down 9 times out of 10, leaving the aircraft without any air conditioning or back-up power source (at places where no GPU is available). Only in smaller airports like Aggati where the aircraft is not refuelled and no GPU is available, the Hotel mode is kept running, but the service door closed, making for very uncomfortable operations with just one door.

Secondly, even when the engine is left on, the air conditioning system rarely performs well enough to make any difference in cabin temperature (which has now been bettered in the newer ATR 72s). Thirdly, this results in engine wear and tear.

The Q400 on the other hand, has a dedicated ground power source on board with its APU (Auxiliary Power Unit). The 61kg Hamilton Sundstrand APS 1000 APU provides the aircraft with pneumatics and electric power, but is limited to ground operations only. The advantages are twofold; firstly, the APU may be used anytime, at any airport, without any hazard posed to the ground crew. Secondly, and most importantly, unlike in the ATR, the engine’s life is not affected. A sensor turns off the APU as soon as the aircraft is airborne.

However, the Q400’s source of power on ground also has its share of problems, as around the world, crews had complained about unreliable APUs on board the Q400. After adopting several standard operating procedures regarding APU operation, their reliability has significantly increased, though it does give up once in a while.

Despite using the engine for power, the fuel consumption on the ATR in the Hotel mode is only about 110kg/hr, which is almost the same as the Q400’s fuel burn on the APU (100-150kgs/hr, as observed operationally). However, when the air-conditioning on the ATR doesn’t perform well enough, the crew slightly advance the power levers on the engine, resulting in a fuel burn of about 130kg/hr.

But unsurprisingly, ATR72 or Q400, more often than not a ground power unit is used for the electrics, and an air cart (where available) for air conditioning. This saves on aircraft maintenance, and reduces operating cost by saving on jet fuel.

iii. Flight Ops & Performance. 

Q400 vs ATR 72-500/600 performance

The Q400’s PW150A engines, each having nearly twice the power of the PW127M/F engines that the ATR72s come fitted with, have significant implications on the operational planning of flights with this airplane.

The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the Q400’s basic version is nearly 28,000kgs, while that of the ATR72-500 is 22,800kgs, making the MTOW of the Q400 23% more than the ATR72. However, the payload of the Q400, at 8625kg, is only 18% more than the ATR72-500. This discrepancy is attributed to the much higher operating empty weight of the Q400, which is about 17,600kgs, 36% more than that of the ATR72-500. The Q400 has bigger (and consequently heavier) engines, and uses little or no composites in its aircraft structure, unlike the ATR72 which extensively uses proven lightweight composites in the wing, and tail plane.

With the powerful PW150A engines, however, the Q400 has 50% more power per kg of the aircraft at maximum takeoff weight, in comparison to the ATR72-500. This extra power is what determines the terrain surrounded high airfields which the Q400 may be operated to, the cruising speed and consequently the trip time of this overpowered beast.

To start with, the Q400 can take-off and land from airfields that are 10,000ft ASL, while the ATR72-500 is limited to airfields of 8500ft ASL. At sea level, on a 20°C hot day, a fully loaded ATR72-500 clears an obstacle 55ft in height, at a distance of 1000m from the end of the runway, while the Q400 clears a 125ft high obstacle at the same distance, under the same conditions. This tremendous climb performance allows the Q400, at MTOW to reach FL200 in 12 minutes, while the ATR 72 reaches the same altitude in the same conditions in 21 minutes. With both aircraft at 95% MTOW, the Q400 can reach FL250 in 16-18 minutes, while the ATR72, although certified to FL250, just cannot fly to this altitude.

In case of an engine failure, the Q400 can maintain 17,500ft, while the ATR72 with one engine can maintain only 11,000ft. With a 6,500ft margin, the Q400 can be dispatched to regions with significant terrain, clearing obstacles with one engine that the ATR72 simply can’t.

For example, the sector that the ATR72 is deployed on, in Kingfisher: Dharamshala, is surrounded by terrain on all sides, except the south west. The minimum off route altitude (MORA), in the grid in which it is located, is 23,500ft. To the south, the grid MORA is 14,200ft; to the west, the MORA is 16,600ft, while to the south west, the MORA is 3,800ft. Since the Dharamshala flight is based on visual flight rules (VFR), the aircraft is dispatched to this hilly terrain, relying on pilot skill to steer clear of terrain in case of an engine out. Although the standard operating procedures authorizes a go-around, it is next to impossible at this airfield. The Q400, on the other hand, can easily execute a go-around. With a single engine out, the Q400 can easily clear terrain on all 3 of four sides, the 23,500 MORA grid being the only concern.

For other critical airfields, such as Kullu and Shimla, Kingfisher uses its ATR42 aircraft, due to runway length limitations and terrain. The ATR42 has 2,160 shaft horse power (SHP) engines, lending it a power to weight ratio of 0.23SHP/kg at its MTOW of 18,000kg. While this lends the ATR42 a better climb performance than the ATR72, the Q400 still outperforms the ATR42 with 0.33SHP/kg, even if the engines on the ATR42 are upgraded to PW127M.

At sea level, and at MTOW, the ATR42-500 needs 1,165m of runway for takeoff. Under the same conditions, the ATR72-500 needs 1290m of runway for takeoff. The Q400, despite its higher mass, higher payload, and higher take off speeds, needs just 1,300m of runway, or lesser when carrying the same payload as the ATR 72. At certain airfields, such as Shimla, which has a runway length of 1,158m, the Q400 may operate from this runway under reduced load. When taking off from such short airfields with a lower mass, the Q400’s climb performance will be significantly greater.

The Q400’s performance is simply amazing for a regional turboprop; it behaves more like a jet. The aircraft can fly at a maximum true airspeed of 360kts at FL200 (20,000ft above sea level), while the ATR 72 hits its maximum of 276kts at FL170. This speed advantage lends the Q400 tremendous flexibility. As experience with other airlines has shown, the Q400 can fly at its maximum speed when behind schedule, or can fly at a long range cruise speed (consuming significantly lesser fuel) when ahead of schedule. This lends the Q400 greater flexibility than its performance limited European counterpart.

Even the speeds at take off are phenomenal: The ATR 72, on rotation, climbs out at 125kts at MTOW, while the Q400 climbs out at 155kts at MTOW. Upon reaching the acceleration altitude, the Q400 can accelerate to 250kts much sooner.

Both the ATR72 and the Q400 can pull off high performance approach feats: to maintain approach speeds much greater than 200kts till a few miles, and then configure the aircraft for landing. The ATR72-500 can maintain 240kts till 7NM from touchdown; many times, this speed has been maintained till only a few miles before touchdown, and yet fast enough decelerated and configured the aircraft for landing at a speed of 110kts. In this process, turboprop aircraft overtake jets on approach, making jet aircraft the bottleneck in approach scheduling.

The final approach speeds of the Q400 are higher than the ATR72’s: based on weight, and flap setting the speeds vary from 101kts to 129kts. Typically, the Q400 has a final approach speed of 115kts with flaps 35. While the ATR72 falls into a category “B” aircraft based on speeds, the Q400 falls into category “C”. But the approach minima for a category “B” aircraft are lower than a category “C” aircraft, giving the ATR72 the edge over the Q400 in degrading visibility conditions. This can spell the difference between a missed approach and a landing.

With this jet-like performance, the Q400 may be treated as a jet, preventing airport congestion normally attributed to the lack of understanding of a turboprop’s performance by air traffic controllers. For this reason, Bombardier went on a road show in India, educating air traffic controllers of its performance. If the ATC treats this as a jet, (which it should with the ATR as well, at least as far as approach is concerned) , the Q400 can easily fit into jet slots on departures and arrivals, reducing potential delays associated with turboprop aircraft. This can lead to a better on time performance. But how effective the road show has been is to be seen; Kingfisher had tried to get Air Traffic Controllers to fly in the cockpits of ATR72 aircraft to better understand its performance and capabilities, but sadly, that did not work out.

Typical fuel consumption loses the Q400 out to the ATR72. For example, a 296NM mission on an ATR72-500 from Hyderabad to Goa, is planned with a trip fuel of 913kgs, and a flying time of 1hr 14 minutes (74 minutes), at FL180 (near MTOW). A Q400 flying 300NM at FL220 for 1hr 7 minutes (5 minutes slower than otherwise possible), would require about 1,200kgs of trip fuel. For just a gain in 7 minutes over the ATR72, the Q400’s 300kg extra burn isn’t quite appealing. Performance aside, for an ATR72 and a Q400 flying 9 flights a day, the Q400 lands up consuming 985,000kgs extra fuel more than an ATR72, this translating to around INR 4.5Cr in today’s value of ATF for turboprops. While this figure appears big, simple math will show that the 300kgs extra fuel will cost INR 13,800more, translating to each of the 78 passengers paying just INR 180 more per ticket, if only fuel were to be considered. But airline economic models are complex, and vary from airline to airline.

iv. Maintenance & Dispatch Reliability

The Q400 NextGen promises to keep the aircraft more in the air and less in the maintenance hangar, with intervals between checks significantly increased: the “A” check interval has been extended from 400hrs to 600hrs; the “C” check interval has been extended from 4000hrs to 6000hrs. The “A” check interval for the ATR72-500 is 500hrs while the “C” check interval is 5000 hrs. This means that the Q400 NextGen can generate significantly more revenue between checks.

While the Q400 will climb at a very high rate and cruise at 360 knots, Augsburg Airways (which flies under the Lufthansa Banner) flies at reduced power settings to prolong engine life. The crew climb the aircraft at 850 rpm instead of 900, cruise at 850 rpm, and never exceed an interstage turbine temperature (ITT) of 670°C while the maximum is 800°C. This results in a climb rate of between 1,800 and 2,500 feet per minute, which provides a comfortable cabin attitude for the passengers. Cruise is at 345 knots instead of 360. Such engine handling has allowed Augsburg to extend the life of the Pratt & Whitney PW150A engines on the Q400. The prolonging of engine life is not possible on the ATR72-500/600, as the significantly lower powered engines need to be run at higher power settings.

The Q400 has a 99.4% average dispatch reliability, and this figure somewhat surprises Bombardier. “The amazing thing is that we haven’t made structural changes in the basic design of the aircraft; yet the dispatch reliability is a lot better, probably due to availability of inventory, skilled personnel, and accumulation of valuable experience leading to better training and understanding of the airplane.”, says Sunder Venkat, director, sales (Asia) at Bombardier Aerospace. ATR claims the dispatch reliability of the ATR72-500 to be over 99%, making both airplanes almost equally reliable for dispatch.

Passenger Comfort

The toughest impression to erase from the minds of the travelling public is the twisted view on any airplane that has propeller blades. The propeller diameter on the Q400 is 13.5ft, while the fan diameter of the largest jet engine in aviation history, the GE90 engines that power the Boeing 777, is only 10.7ft.

Such dimensions don’t miss the eye, and in the eye of most, any prop is a loud flying machine employing old technology. The Q400 has two Pratt and Whitney PW150A turboprop engines that drive the six bladed Dowty (now part of GE Aviation) propellers. A turboprop engine in essence is a jet engine with a gearbox to increase the torque (the turning force) on the shaft which finally drives the propellers; this increased torque available at the expense of the shaft speed.

But a slower shaft implies slower propellers, and anything that moves slower through the air produces significantly lesser noise. Yet there will be vibration and noise from the engines and the non shrouded propeller, but when comparing the noise in the cabin of a Q400 or an ATR72-500 with the cabin noise experienced in the Boeing 747-400’s upper deck, it’s the mentioned turboprops that stand quieter. Even the noise pollution experienced around the airport from these turboprops is far lesser than most commercial jets.

As the propellers turn on the Q400’s engines, they push air up against the fuselage. This phenomenon causes the fuselage to experience some flexing which can result in unwanted noise and vibration. The Q400 has engines that deliver nearly twice the power of the PW127M/F engines that are fitted onto the ATR72-500. As a result, there is bound to be more noise and vibration in the cabin. Bombardier got innovative, and employed a Active Noise and Vibration Suppression (ANVS) system based on technology that was patented around the 1950s to reduce noise in aircraft cockpits. Through the strategic placement of over 40 microphones, the ANVS system measures these vibration frequencies throughout the cabin. This frequency is analyzed and an equal frequency 180 degrees out of phase is sent to Actively Tuned Vibration Absorbers (ATVAs). The ATVAs, placed between the exterior and interior walls, push back against this vibration with the out-of-phase frequency to effectively “cancel” the vibration. Since the vibration is cancelled, noise generation is also eliminated right at the source. This system results in a cabin that is up to 28dB quieter than otherwise. In addition, passive noise dampeners, as used in the ATR72-500, help reduce low frequency noise and vibration.

The Q400 NextGen is the only commercial turboprop available today to make use of the (ANVS) system, with which the average cabin noise of 77-79dBA is lower than that in an Airbus A318/319, and around 2-4dB quieter than the ATR72’s cabin. Although a noise difference of around 2-4dB is barely perceivable to the human ear, Bombardier states that based on European working standards measurements, this lower noise cuts passenger fatigue by one third.

Any aircraft is at its loudest in the take-off and climb phases. The Q400 reaches the same cruise altitude as the ATR72 in around half the time, giving its passengers further respite from noise much sooner.

The Q400 can, in all conditions, easily reach FL250 (25,000ft), while the ATR72-500 cannot easily reach this altitude in most conditions. The result is the Q400 clearing more weather than the ATR72, allowing for a smoother, less turbulent ride.

Other changes made to the Q400NextGen cabin are mostly cosmetic in nature, such as LED lighting, larger bins, and dished sidewalls; most of which are of no consequence to an economically sensitive passenger of a low cost carrier.


A sticky issue for the Q400’s reputation is the series of main landing gear accidents in 2007 that plagued the Q400 fleet of Scandinavian Airlines, the flag carrier of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Within a span of 3 days, two Q400s suffered accidents due to the right main landing gear collapsing. In the very next month, another Q400 suffered an accident with the collapse of the right main landing gear. The very next day, SAS decided to immediately discontinue the use of the Q400.

Within the same period, an Augsburg Q400 returned to Munich after the nose gear did not extend, and landed with the nose gear up.

The first two SAS accidents were related to severe corrosion in the main landing gear, while the third accident was related to a blocked orifice within the actuator assembly which prevented the complete extension of the right main landing gear. The Augsburg accident was due to a the corrosion of a spring.

But this was not all. An All Nippon Airways (ANA) Q400 landed at Kochi, Japan, with a the nose gear retracted. This led Bombardier to advise all Q400 operators around the world to inspect the aircraft’s front landing gear door mechanism. A Porter Airline’s Q400 had to return shortly after takeoff from Montreal’s Trudeau Airport when the landing gear failed to retract after takeoff. In another Porter Airline’s incident, the landing gear would not extend the normal way, and had to be lowered using the alternate mechanism. In two other SAS incidents, the landing gear failed to retract after takeoff.

All the above incidents, with the exception of one in the December of 2006, occurred in 2007.

But the signs of an impending accident were present, and an early flag was raised by Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) in 2006 itself. JCAB had asked Bombardier to improve the reliability of the Q400s, following 52 cases where Q400s had declared emergencies or had to return to departure airports. Following the accidents involving the SAS Q400s, the Accident Investigation Board of Denmark recommended reviewing the design, the certification and the maintenance program of the Main Landing Gear retraction/extension actuator and rod end. In 2008, the FAA proposed an Airworthiness Directive that mandated incorporation of new weight-on-wheels (WOW) and steering harnesses that have a new conduit construction. The Q400’s reputation for safety was literally on shaky legs.

Bombardier introduced modifications to the in-service fleet following the SAS incidents. These modifications have been incorporated in the Q400 NextGen aircraft, including a new metallurgy applied to the actuator piston and rod in the main landing gear.

Bombardier states that the landing gear has been modified “to overcome even potential maintenance issues”. Since the modifications, there have been no issues with the Q400’s landing gear.

In all of these incidents and accidents attributed to system error, not a single life has been lost. On the other hand, the ATR 72-212 (the predecessor to the ATR 72-500, though no major differences lie in the two types), has taken away 136 lives in two accidents spaced 16 years apart; both accidents a result of the same issue: icing on the wing leading to loss of control. The ATR 72-500 has been suitably modified to better handle icing, and has a clean safety record.

Another situation that could lead to a partial or full loss of control could be a control surface jam. Both the ATR72 and the Q400 have a provision to disconnect the otherwise linked elevators, allowing for the captain or the first officer to have full authority over their respective, independent elevators. But in case of a control wheel (yoke) jam, ATR pilots have to do with nothing but the rudder and power levers to change the aircraft’s heading. Pilots who experience this during training find it very hard to control the aircraft. The Q400, on the other hand, can disconnect the captain’s controls from the first officer’s, allowing the captain to control the hydraulically operated roll spoilers, and the first officer to control the mechanically linked ailerons. Whichever gets stuck, allows for the other to be used.

The main landing gear for the Q400 extend from the engine pods, giving it a wheel base of 8.8meters. The ATR72, however, has the landing gear extending from under the belly, giving it a wheel base of only 4.10 meters, less than half that of the Q400. As a result, the Q400 on the ground is far more stable than the ATR72, in all conditions.

The Pratt and Whitney PW150A is a dependable engine, with the engine as such never giving any problem. In flight shutdowns, though rare, are usually precautionary in nature, and are linked to a malfunctioning Propeller Electronic Control. Precautionary shut downs, when necessary, are seen in the ATR 72’s PW127 engines as well.

Single Engine ceilings for the Q400 and the ATR 72

But when an engine fails, the Q400, with the remaining engine, can climb at nearly double the rate of an ATR72-500 under similar conditions. Besides, the single engine ceiling of the Q400 is 6,500ft more, making the Q400 far safer, and more dependable in hilly terrain.

The Q400 has one dedicated type II/III emergency exit on the forward right, and three Type I doors. The ATR 72 on the other hand has two plug emergency Type III exits, in addition to two Type I doors. Type II exits are at minimum 20% bigger than Type III exits, and are at floor level, unlike Type III which can be as high as 20 inches above floor level. In case of an emergency, evacuation through one Type II/III and one Type I exit, like in the Q400 (one side evacuation) is potentially much faster than through one Type III and one Type I exit (like in the ATR).

Aircraft Handling and Other Systems

An Augsburg Q400 being hand flown.

Ask any Q400 pilot who has flown both jets and turboprop, and he will hands down cite his love for the “Propjet” hybrid.

Infact, the aircraft’s engines are so powerful, and the Q400’s aerodynamics so favourable that it holds three records for climbs to 29,527 ft, as submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. In the C1i (16,000kgs – 20,000kg) category, the Q400 holds the record at 07:02 minutes, 59 seconds faster than the Saab 2000. In the C1j category (20,000 kg to 25,000kg), the Q400 holds the record at 08:21 minutes, 03:04 minutes faster than the GrummanE2C Hawkeye. In the C1k category (25,000kg to 35,000 kg), the Q400 climbs in 11:41minutes, with no aircraft holding a previous record. The Q400 is undoubtedly the fastest amongst regional turboprop aircraft.

According to Mark Brouwer, a first officer on the Q400 at Augsburg Airways, a regional airline based in Germany, “When the Q400 is light it’s almost as nimble as a small General Aviation aircraft (such as a C152), and is a dream to fly. The climb performance on take off with a light Dash is just insane: on a ferry flight, with normal take off power (90%) in standard conditions, flaps 5, speed V2 + 10 (around 140-145kt), the Q400 will gladly take you to the skies at just under 5000 fpm with a pitch of around 27-28 degrees. When quickly reducing power during cruise the propellers will immediately move into shallow pitch, causing so much drag from the twelve R408 propeller blades that you can feel yourself getting gently pushed forward as the aircraft decelerates. Landing an aircraft with these characteristics (and where 1% change in power makes quite a difference when there’s just over 5000 shp per engine behind it) can be a great challenge, but that makes it all the more fun.

A heavy Q400 will feel a lot more sluggish, maybe even jet-like due to its sleek profile. All V-speeds are greatly increased, and the reason why Bombardier decided to use such powerful engines becomes quite apparent, as the expected initial climb rate in aforementioned conditions is reduced to around 1700 fpm.”

Hydraulic controls are necessary for such a long aircraft, and with the exception of the ailerons, all primary and secondary flight controls are hydraulically powered. The ATR 72 has hydraulics powering only the roll spoilers and flaps, which can make flying the ATR physically more demanding.

In both aircraft, flaps are hydraulically powered, though the Q400 offers 0°, 5°, 10°, 15°, 35° of flap positions, while the ATR72 offers 0°, 15°, 30°. Since extending flaps affects aircraft pitch, automatic pitch trim for flap positions between 15° and 35° reduces the pitch forces felt on the control columns.

Being a long aircraft, the Q400 is very sensitive in yaw and pitch. “A minor annoyance when flying the Q400 is that the Yaw Damper has only limited governance over the rudder, which means that the rudder has to be trimmed manually on every change in aircraft pitch or engine power setting”, says Mark. This problem, although present on the ATR 72, is not as severe.

The glass cockpit of the Q400. Image courtesy: Bombardier Aerospace

The Q400’s flight deck sports large LCD screens, which offer considerable advantages on many different levels. “The Q400 can be quite pitch sensitive, so having a large AI (Attitude Indicator) , his on the primary screen really helps when flying manually. The secondary screens can be used both for navigation (NAV mode, in three different formats) and systems monitoring (SYS mode – electrical, doors, fuel, engines) which make monitoring the aircraft both in-flight and on-ground a breeze. The Engine Display is, just like the other displays, clean and uncluttered, allowing us to detect and analyse any problems with an engine in an instant. The screens automatically dim themselves when it gets darker and can be dimmed manually as well, which is ideal for night flights.”, says Mark, beaming with enthusiasm.

The ATR 72-500, features an Electronic Flight Instrumentation (EFIS), with two small CRT

The ATR72-600's appealing glass cockpit. Image Courtsey: ATR

screens per pilot. The remaining gauges are analogue. The ATR 72-600, which was certified by EASA only in the July of 2011, is late to catch up with a full glass cockpit, while the Q400 has sported this in every model delivered since 1998. A glass cockpit allows for a clean, uncluttered, organised and prioritized display of colour coded information.

The aircraft comes with a Flight Management System, and for Siddharth Srinivasan, who is a Type Rating Instructor on the Q400, as well as a line Captain at Colgan (serving Continental Connection’s routes), “The glass cockpit is good. Having flown both glass and steam gauges I definitely give glass the thumbs up. The FMS is a good step and very important to ensure full use of the capabilities of the glass cockpit.”

: PW 150A Turboprop Engine. Image courtesy: Pratt and Whitney

The PW150A engines on the Q400 are controlled by FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control), unlike the PW127s in the ATR which are controlled by an EEC (Engine Electronic Control). The FADEC provides automatic engine protection against out-of-tolerance operations, while reducing the number of parameters to be monitored by flight crew. The FADEC also provides semi-automatic engine starting, while also providing engine long-term health monitoring and diagnostics. With the number of external and internal parameters used in the control processes increasing by one order of magnitude, a FADEC engine can deliver better fuel efficiency (relative to identical non-FADEC controlled engine).

Aircraft Sales and Production

The ATR 72 was introduced in the October of 1989, with Finnair as the first customer. Born out of an ATR42, in response to the need for a 70-odd seat plane, the ATR 72 has in total delivered close to 410 aircraft over 22 years. The most popular has been the -500 variant, selling about 290 airplanes since its introduction to service in 1997.

The Q400, although conceived much later, was born out of a similar requirement. With deliveries starting in 2000, 357 Q400s (including Q400 NextGen) have been delivered over the 11 year period. This on average translates to 32 Q400 deliveries per year, as against 21 ATR 72-500s per year.

If these numbers are anything to go by, the Q400 has proved its popularity, though the geographical markets of the Q400 and the ATR72 are almost complimentary to each other. The ATR 72’s presence is poor in USA and nonexistent in Australia, while the Q400 enjoys a good representation all over except in Asia with only 3 independent operators cumulatively flying 32 aircraft: ANA, JAC, and PAL Express.

ATR 72-600 rates are going to be ramped up to its limit, due to high demand for the type.

While ATR builds planes in Toulouse, sharing resources and technology with Airbus, and is part of a European Consortium, Bombardier Aerospace is smaller, though only the third largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world. This is enough to make the Canadian manufacturer significantly sensitive to world economy and the health of the global airline business. In the April of 2008, With demand for turboprops shifting toward the larger models, Bombardier Aerospace had decided to focus on the Q400 by ceasing production of all other Dash 8 variants, leaving ATR as the only western producer of a 50-seat turboprop. In the Jan of 2009, Bombardier was mulling a boost in Q400 production rates following a delivery backlog of 113 aircraft. Eventually, this did happen. In the September of 2010, Bombardier Aerospace Chief Operating Officer Guy Hachey said that a regular stream of new, albeit small, orders for Q400s meant that production rates could be sustained. But in the June of 2011, Bombardier opted to reduce Q400 production rates while awaiting sales campaigns to materialise, after few prospective customers put their orders on hold.

For ATR, things are moving the other way with their next generation ATR 72-600. Since launching the -600 series programme in October 2007, ATR has received orders for a total of 165 ATR 72-600 aircraft. Demand for the ATR 72-600 has been very strong over the last 12 months due to its apparent attractive operating economics, proven reliability of the family of products, and latest avionics suite upgrade over the ATR 72-500. ATR delivered 51 aircraft in 2010 and is keeping production in 2011 in the region of 50-53 aircraft. ATR still plans to raise production next year to 70 aircraft, and possibly further in 2013-14 if the airframer is confident that the supply chain can cope.

While the sales figures are vastly different for the Q400 NextGens and the ATR 72-600, Bombardier and ATR seem to share the same view on the future of the airline industry. In its 20-year forecast, ATR anticipates a demand for 3,000 turboprops with a sale volume in excess of $20 billion, and is convinced that 30% of the demand for 3,000 turboprops over the next 20 years would be met by a larger aircraft. Bombardier, in its 20 year forecast, anticipates a total demand for 6,100 aircraft in 20-99 seat segment. Of the 6,100 aircraft deliveries predicted from 2011-2030, 2,500 aircraft will be turboprops. Bombardier is quick to work on a bright future; a 90-seat stretched Q400 is on the cards.


The number of Q400 aircraft flying today is indicative of the aircraft’s immense potential and proven economics. No further orders are being taken for the popular ATR 72-500; the well selling -600 will replace the -500 on the production line. With the ATR 72-600 imbibing some good features of the Q400NextGen, such as LED lit cabin and a full glass cockpit, differences between the aircraft are reducing, though only cosmetic.

The Q400 and the ATR72 are two aircraft in their own leagues, beyond a true comparison. The Q400 offers immense operational flexibility and unparalleled performance, while requiring only one aircraft type for most missions. The ATR 72 wins over the Q400 in the operating economics, from the start to the finish. The ATR 72 is less expensive to purchase, to operate, and goes out with a good resale value to cost sensitive operators due to a high demand for the type.

Spicejet has based the Q400s at Hyderabad, serving 11 destinations. While the airline will start reaping the benefits of a turboprop in its fleet from the 21st of August 2011, how the airline uses the Q400 to its fullest, and the manner in which it complements its 737 fleet is to be seen.

It must be remembered, the Q400 was designed as a jet aircraft replacement; not as a mere turboprop.


Primary contributors who fly the Q400

Mark Brouwer

Mark Brouwer is a First Officer for Augsburg Airways, which is a Lufthansa Regional partner airline based in Munich, Germany. With a total of just over 1500hrs, around 1200 of which are on the Dash 8 Q400, he just had his Airline Transport Pilot License “unfrozen”.

Siddharth Srinivasan

Siddharth Srinivasan is a Captain and Type Rating Instructor (TRI) at Pinnacle, which is headquartered at Memphis, USA. His 5000+hrs of experience includes time on the Q400, and the Saab 340. Pinnacle flies routes for Continental Connection.

Primary contributors who fly the ATR72-500


A K is a senior first officer with Kingfisher airlines, flying the ATR72-500 aircraft. With more than 2200hrs of experience and an ATPL, she is set to move onto the Airbus A320 with a private low cost airline in India.


A first officer with a private airline in India, rated on the ATR72-500. Despite being newly released, he has an eye for detail and thirst for knowledge which makes him an valuable contributor. Yet, he humbly adds, “I am an FO and have a long way to go”. [Photo removed on request]

Contributors who fly the ATR72-500


A commander with Kingfisher Airlines. She has a total of 3000hrs, of which 600hrs are in command of the ATR72-500. She is the youngest captain in the country, having got her command at the age of 21.


A senior first officer based out of Delhi, flies both the ATR72 and the ATR42 aircraft for a private airline in India. He has 2500hrs of flying experience, and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License.

Note: All Indian Contributors’ names have been removed to protect their identity.

84 thoughts on “Proud to fly a Turboprop: Q400 vs ATR72”

  1. How about doing the comparison with the EJETS. Using productivity and point to point network with longer distances

  2. Fantastic article, great detail – thank you.

  3. Capt Vishnu Unnithan said:

    Congratulations for an excellent article. Well Done!!!

    Anybody has any opinions about the comparative pilot fatigue experienced on the two aircraft at the end of a hard day’s flying? and also regarding the relative spaciousness of the two cockpits.

  4. very good analysis

  5. My main complaint with turboprops is how poorly they handle turbulence, at least from a passenger’s point of view. I fly regularly on ATR-72 aircraft with American Eagle between SJU and STX and I can say without hesitation that passengers could do without the roller coaster reaction of the flight with every cloud that the ATR passes through. Granted, a jet may have more options in avoiding the less than smooth airspace, but I can tell you that passengers cringe at the thought of flying on them for that reason alone. In my many years of flying on them between STX and SJU, I don’t think I can ever remember a single completely smooth flight. Now THAT would be something to address, at least from the point of view of the flying public.

    • I agree 100% the ATR 72 is sensitive to rough air.

    • The Q400 flies much higher than the ATR and hence above most of the clouds that, as you point out, often generate uncomfortable buffet & turbulence. So in that sense, the Q400 has addressed the comfort issue.

    • shloime said:

      ya kenna’ change the laws of physics, laddie.

      the lift that you call turbulence is a mass of rising air (alongside corresponding falling air, because what goes up must come down). it has a certain size, mass, and velocity, all which translate into ENERGY. the smaller the mass of the airplane striking it (attempting to fly through it, if you prefer), the greater the deflection it will experience. mass = intertia = smoother ride. generally speaking, commercial jets start at a size or two bigger than these turboprops, and go up from there. so it’s no surprise that they have a smoother ride.

      speed is the other factor, with most commercial aircraft flying at 200+kts. in terms of operating costs, faster is good, so they’re not likely to slow down to zeppelin speeds, just for a smoother ride.

  6. Amar Kothari said:

    Very Intersting article….the author has described all in details with feedback from actual pilots truely says the story of two turbo props. As India is such a vast populated country and as the middle class is growing so fast with such an immense buying power almost 50 % of that middle class is going to fly soon or in near future. New airports are being built and old ones are renovated the passanger traffic will increase drastically. Keeping that in mind and all the positive things described in the article I am confident that the Q400 will out run any turboprop in his class. Congratualtions to Bombardier for job well done!

    • …..the Q400 will out run any turboprop in his class….
      It is safe to say the Q400 is in a class of its own, really….. 🙂

      good article, though!!

      • Look up Saab 2000. Cruises faster, flies higher than the Q, with a modern, clean cockpit… built in the 90s!

  7. Satyajitters said:

    I really appreciate the depth and research of the article. Just made my weekend 🙂

  8. I was a first time passenger in a Q400 from Newark to Pittsburgh today. I loved the plane with one annoying exception, noise. I was in seat 14B. Above my head and a little aft was a loud noise during taxi, takeoff, approach, and taxi. After landing gear was retracted noise went away. If the noise is normal passengers should have been informed before hand. It was too loud. I will NOT fly in a Q400 until someone tells me what the root cause of the noise was and that it’s normal. I assume it was hydraulic or APU both of which I don’t like.

    • It was most likely part of the hydraulic system which is turned on for the stages of flight you mentioned.

    • John M. Drescher said:

      Hmm. This Sunday I had the same flight (Newark to Pittsburgh) diverted to Harrisburg because the one of the engines needed to be turned off. I do remember hearing this noise on takeoff but not so much on landing although I was certainly not listening for that on landing.

    • This is a Power Transfer Unit, a Hydraulic back up power to the number 2 hydraulic system. yes it is noisy sounds like a barking dog. it is only on during critical phases of flight to protect against failure.

  9. Jayson said:

    Just came back from a vacation in Coron, Palawan, Philippines. Flew Manila (MNL) – Busuanga (USU) on Cebu Pacific ATR 72-500. We had to wait for some time inside the shuttle bus parked on the tarmac before we could board the plane since service personnel were using the same door used for passenger entry. Warm cabin before take-off so much so that we had to use fans. The plane was full and the climb to cruise altitude took a really long time. Landing at the short runway of USU (1,200 m) was not a good experience; after initial runway contact the plane bounced up again before it could finally put itself into the pavement, shaking the entire cabin. Flew on Airphil Express (formerly PAL Express) Q400 on the return to MNL. Acceptable cabin temp before take-off. The plane was full but the climb to our altitude was pretty fast. Flying time to MNL was shorter by around 15 minutes. The crosswind landing was definitely more comfortable to that in USU. I think the placement of the main landing gear helps the Q400 make smoother landings since the cabin does not directly take the vibration, and the wing flex might as well dampen vibration; whereas in the ATR 72-500 where the main landing gear are placed just under the cabin, vibration is more noticeable. As to cabin noise, they were almost the same for me. Overall, the Q400 wins for passenger experience, and I hope more airlines would be willing to take the Q400 into their fleet.

  10. Very complete and nice written review, excellent job! I sense a slight preference for the Q400s better performance, from a pilot perspective. It seems the economics of the ATR are winning at this time, as well as the enhanced cabin and cockpit of the -600s. Curious to know what BBDs answer will be. They can’t sit on the hands saying theirs is faster..

  11. bigpoint said:

    ИЛ 96-300 лучше!!!

  12. Pingback: Anonymous

  13. Hi I found this article very nice and interesting with few exception. I have been flying ATR 42/72-500 since last 4 years as a captain and was flying with kingfisher in India. Regarding the mentioned speed during cruise in ATR I found it incorrect as it was mentioned in this article.VMO of ATR is 250 kts , and in ISA plus 15 degree average TAS u will get in ATR 72-500 in average is 250kts during cruise.yes u will reach 276 KTS in cruise but only in ATR 42-500 and might reach in below ISA COndition in 72.In Indian condition for 72 only in decending phase.regarding the climb performance in fully loaded ATR 72-500 ,to reach FL180 from 3000 ft elev it takes almost 81 nm in ISA PLUS 15 degrees c .After FL 100 it hardly gives u 700-1000 feet per min climb and after FL 150 hardly 300-600 ft per min climb. So in term of climb performance it is far inferior to Q400.

    Handling wise ATR 72 is not at all pilot load for pilot is very high. Very hard to land in cross wind and while raining.even during day time with more than light rain condition it is very hard to land as ATR wiper is absolutely useless. It feels sometimes as its there just for the show.U can imagine landing in bad weather at night. As no hydraulics are avialable for primary controls ,sometimes need good physical strength.
    Due to its climb performance ,max time u hv to fly through weather in monsoon period and during landing just watch out for pitch to prevent from tail strike.Air condition.. Not sufficient for Indian and subcontinent condition.
    OVER ALL it’s quite a challenge to fly ATR … But gets satisfaction after flight n loving it.

  14. one of the best aviation articles that i have read in a long time. Thank you for the insight.

  15. Hi

    The sound heard during taxi, take-off, approach is the PTU(Hydraulic Power Transfer Unit) it is a safety feature on the aircraft that transfers Hydraulic power between the two main systems in-case of a failure during take-off or landing. It supply’s power to certain flight control and landing gear. It is auto enabled and triggers when flaps move past 0 deg.

    This is a generalization the PTU logic is quite complex. It makes much more noise when it called to provide hydraulic power!! it is basically in idle mode during taxi.

    I write the function test procedure. 🙂

  16. David Daniels said:

    Of all the turboprops I have flown on, the best of the bunch to me, was the SAAB 2000. That really does fly at jet speeds.
    Regretably it has been out of production now for a long time.

    • Unfortunately, the SAAB 2000 was way ahead of it’s time. It was unheard of to stretch a 1X2 fuselage to 50 seats (proven viable with the ERJ-145), and jet like speed with a turbo-prop (proven viable with Q400).

  17. sony thomas said:

    Just noticed this. Jet Air ATR taxied in kochi to parking bay with a single engine while the q400 of spice jet used both engines for taxi while at mangalore.

    i think i have read a story of delta airlines saving a lot of money by flaps up on taxi or single engine taxi.

    i it applicable for the q400?

    just asked.


    • Hello Sony,

      Here is your reply from a Q400 pilot: Mark Brouwer, who helped me with this article:

      At Augsburg Airways we always taxi with both engines running and the condition levers at max rpm. That’s just company procedure, though, because I often see Austrian (Tyrolean) taxiing in with one engine in 850 rpm. The difference in fuel flow is around 50kg/hr, but I guess it can make quite a difference when it’s standard procedure on all flights.

      We don’t shut down an engine completely, nor have I seen other companies do this. It’s quite common on the ATR, but on the Dash it would probably cause problems with maneuverability because of the wide track.

      • sony thomas said:

        wow!!! thanks a milion…feels real good being able to communicate with a real world pilot… doesn’t find many walking around (obviously they are flying, i guess)…..
        nice reply….
        thank you very much!

      • taxying the Q400 at 850rpm makes no difference what so ever because the props are automatically at 650rpm below flight idle power setting on the ground (eg during during taxi), no matter whether the condition levers are set to 850/900 or max.

        Flybe do single-engine taxing with their fleet of Q400s, they are one of the largest Q400 operators in the world. They have done this for over a year now.

        The difference of taxying with a single engine is more like 3-4kg per minute (180-220kg/h)

  18. just wanted to confirm from a pilot whether q400 is category B or category C aircraft . what is the approach speed ?

  19. Asborn Webb said:

    Just two days ago, I was responding to a post on facebook in relation to news clip that state LIAT is likely to upgrade its fleet to ATR 42 and 72 and not the Q400. As I observed most of us that respond to the post favors the Q400 over the ATR. LIAT have an all Dash 8 fleet of 3 Dash 8-100 and about 15 Dash 8-300, so you can understand why we favor the Dash 8. However we all concluded that from our observation on airport ramp and our experience as passengers in Dash 8 aircraft we concluded that the Q400 is a much better aircraft for LIAT fleet renewal. Reading this article have given me more love and favor for the Q400. Personally I will go for the flexibility and performance of the Q400 then for the ATR 42 or 72 operating economics. Thank for this wonderful article.

    • First of all, i don’t think Q400s would work well for island hopping routes that LIAT operates because the aircraft is too fast, this comes like having a jet to do the island hopping (remember what happen to Redjet). Secondly, not most islands in the Caribbean region would support Q400 because their airports have shorter runways. Even if LIAT was to get the Q400s it would have to fly long routes especially between, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Trinidad and probably Guyana. This would just leave out the islands in between and remember LIAT is a intra-caribbean airline so it must serve all the islands. The ATRs whether 42 or 72 are more economical enough to operate because they can island hop like the Dash 8 100s or 300s especially when you talk about the ATR 600 series, the airline could save a lot of money in maintenance and fuel when it uses these aircraft.
      The way i see it, the Q400s were really design to compete with regional jets like embrarer’s E-jets and bombardier’s CRJs therefore the Q400s inherited the speed and economics close to a jet than a turboprop like dash 8 300s or ATR 42 and 72. I do like Q400s as well but if any airline like to operate routes with longer runways that’s the Q400s. If an airline wants to operate on shorter routes especially island hopping like Caribbean Airlines or LIAT at airports with shorter runways, the ATR 42/72 is the way to go.

    • starjack22 said:

      First of all, i don’t think majority of LIAT’s routes demands a Q400 because:
      1. The is aircraft is faster and larger than the Q300s
      2. There are some of the islands’ airports and runways can’t handle this aircraft and
      3. it’s not really design for island hopping.
      The Q400 is really design to compete with regional jets like embrarer’s e-jets and bombardier’s CRJs on longer regional routes. The ATR 42/72s on the other hand makes more sense to operate because they can fly at a normal turboprop speed as a dash 8 100 or 300 and is still capable of island hopping. And the much advantage especially with the new ATR 600 series is that it could help save the airline millions of dollars spent on fuel and maintenance making it more economical sense to operate especially in shorter sectors. So there’s nothing wrong with Caribbean Airlines or LIAT choosing ATRs over Dash Q400s. I myself wish they would have Q400s in their fleet but in a more economical outlook for in the Caribbean it may not be viable.

  20. Excellent article! Perfect!
    I just want to add information about ATR: spoilers are still activated on ground. I find it unconfortable (yaw effect) and dangerous when there is crosswind. (asymmetrical drag increasement).
    Another parameter is missing in the performance analysis: the wind. Which is not in favor of slow aircrafts…
    Ex.: headwind 50kt (daily found…)
    Ground speed ATR 72: 226kt
    Ground speed Q400: 310kt
    So 37% faster!

    Headwind 80kt
    GS ATR 72 : 196kt 1h31min for 300Nm cruise
    GS Q400 : 280kt 1h05min
    So 43% faster! 26 min less!

    Often, this kinds of aircrafts are used to feed hubs. If you are late, connecting flights are missed…

    Thanks again for this article

  21. Maldivian airways fly with Dash 8 300/200 aircrafts…. which is super and easy to handle.I do the load and trim for these flts its much easier compared jet engine loadsheets… 🙂

  22. Quite a detailed review and comparison between both the makes…

  23. Angus Clarke said:

    Excellent article. It should be noted that although the list prices indicate a $7M difference, in reality its smaller, especially when the order is for multiple units. In my opinion the actual cost difference is much smaller. (perhaps only about $2-$3M.)

  24. Hi, one question:

    Is it possible to fly the Q400 with lower speed than usual and save fuel through this?

    If it should be possible: How much more fuel would the Q400 need compared with the ATR72, when operating with the same speed as the ATR 72?

  25. Thank you for the great article. However you state that

    “…with which the average cabin noise of 77-79dBA is lower than that in an Airbus A318/319…”

    which has to be a joke. I don’t care about the numbers but with thousands of hours as operating crew as well as a passenger on the Q400 I dare myself to know that it is significantly more uncomfortable than any airbus narrowbody jet.

  26. Great article! Thanks.
    Just flew STS-SEA on a Horizon Q400. Other than the noise, it was great. STS is tiny compared to SFO. It’s like a private jet experience. We held 400+ mph ground speed in both directions. The 2hr 9min trip is only a few mins longer than a 737 from SFO. I’m a big fan of these aircraft for fuel efficiency. Swapping out jets for TPs on short routes could make more of a difference than all the rail projects currently on the table.

  27. I would like to see you guys compare the old saab 2000 with Both Q400 atr 72/ 42 and even the Dash 8 300 also and compare dash 8 300 Q300 the the atr 42 500

  28. AlexandreACW said:

    Remember Q400 crashed on USA around Feb.2009 with Continental Express colors and killing all on board.

  29. I just couldn’t go away your web site before suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard info an individual provide for your guests? Is gonna be back continuously in order to investigate cross-check new posts

  30. On polish LOT they call Q400 “square wheels” because of way in which it runs on ground. Shutters passengers left and right, even at slow speeds during taxiing before start.

  31. how much does it cost approximately to operate a Dash 8 Q400 and an ATR 72 at full cost i.e. variable + direct + indirect

  32. I would like to know if anyone could inform me where I can obtain the fuel costs for Q400? It would also be great if I can get a breakdown of the operating costs. An approximate value should be good enough, it will help me complete my thesis.
    Thanks in advance

  33. Bharath Nahar said:

    spicejet has 15 Q400’s for its regional operations. The CEO of the airline put in his papers 18 months in advance out of his 5 year term. The airline according to one of the pilots finds servicing the Q400’s pretty expensive. The spare parts of the aircraft are changed only after the pilots request 3 or 4 times, to get it changed to the aircraft technical team. The airline being a low cost one spends a lot of time and expense, in sending the pilots to canada for delivery of aircraft and to sweden/finland for simulation training.The other low cost airline, indigo gets all their aircraft delivered in delhi.

  34. SpiceJet sucks all Indian pilots are horrible, I was travelling from Goa . O my god what a hard landing it was, and the maintenance sucks u will find mosquito, u will find windows are taped with papers horrible airline I hv traveled

  35. Peter Schmid said:

    Thank you very much for an excellent article, very educational, including the comment section! I would love to learn more about both of these aircraft!

  36. Fantastic comparison b/w the both.. Nice work.
    What about HQ ratings of the airplanes ?

  37. Adrienne O/Neill said:

    I am troubled by llymphedema of the arm, a complication that arose after surgery to my armpit for breast cancer. i need to fly in a cabin with as close to normal atmospheric pressure as possible and wear an elastic sleeve throughout the flight. Does anyone know what the atmospheric pressure in the cabin of these two planes would be at their maximum flying altitude?

    Thanking you in advance.

    the resident Mermaid

  38. Great write up, I would like to bring up the issue of reliability (which very well may have changed since you published this excellent piece). The -400 has experienced rather serious reliability issues, I’m not sure where the OEM got 99.4%, but per a recent Aviation Week article Horizon went on record saying that they are displeased with its maintenance costs and dispatch reliability. They mentioned that they were working with the manufacturer to rectify. Can anyone provide further insight? (Informed insight, not speculation or opinion)

    • Flybe, the largest operator, run at 99.1%. Bombardier are very reluctant to fix known design issues, eg de-ice boot pressure cautions. It is rare to go more than 10 sectors without getting the QRH out for a problem.

  39. Congratulation! Very excellent article!!

  40. atr are more ease of acess for a mechanic to work than q400 when discussed with colleagues who had worked on both airplanes

  41. Jeff Lansing said:

    It is a built to a cheap price point. Numerous issues do to this which will never be fixed. For example the complete power quadrant is unlit because it “doesn`t have to be”. The ANVS never works and with the wipers in the park position the noise from the airstream is quite annoying. Most pilots raise the wipers in flight to quiet the cockpit. Cheapness like this surrounds the aircraft.

    • Jeff Lansing said:

      Also, Bombardier apparently does not know what a thermostat. For Cabin and Cockpit heating you just turn knobs until it feels right and it never is. Always cold in the cockpit and hot in the cabin. The brakes are horribly modulated and don`t apply evenly so the airplane sways left and right upon landing. The ailerons are driven by chains on two sprockets that look like a bicycle and are constantly loose and rattle inside the control yoke. The weather radar is practically useless. There is no automatic system to keep the airplane not yawing during powers changes, so you are constantly operating rudder trim. The Lavatory is ideally located right next to the flight deck door so you get to smell passengers business all flight long. To be continued.

  42. Jeff Lansing said:

    Also, the window heat is AC powered and does not operate until the props are unfeathered so there is no way to de-fog the windows at the gate and they do fog up inside in wet weather. They also neglected to heat the windshields center low position thus obstructing the view after entering icing conditions. The French made TEAM radios like to bleed over when transmitting on certain frequencies. Also the standby altimeter dim function must be held for 20 seconds to work. The cheapness of plastic panels is truly amazing and many are taped up with aluminized tape because of cracks. More to come.

  43. Jeff Lansing said:

    The overhead bins vibrate and rattle during flight and there are napkins and cups strategically placed by flight attendants to fix this. The ANVS system is a joke since it`s on MEL half the time and their is little difference in noise when it does work. The propellors constantlly seep grease out of the hubs. The PTU Power Takeoff Unit makes a loud annoying sound which passengers complain about or are fearful their is something wrong. After flying at altitude in cold weather and then descending water will drip on the flight crew. The nickname for the airplane is rightly POS. More soon.

  44. Great article

  45. Savant Savant said:

    It is very good article with lot of information for comparison. I believe that city pair less than an hour flying time , the option of ATR shall be better & economical , whereas Q400 is definitely a better product in terms technology & passenger comfort in similar range but shall be cost effective & viable proposition for flying city-pairs more than one hour upto two hour.

  46. It is an interesting article and, under 300 nm, I can see the slight advantage of the ATR.
    A comparison over 450 nm would highlight the advantages of the 400. In fact, I think the ATR would struggle on routine long, hot weather ops, 450nm and 38 degrees plus.
    The ATR is lighter and will always burn less fuel. The 400 is more of a regional jet with props.
    The 400 is not-much-worse at short ranges and is much better at longer ranges, and can do both with efficiency, using the one airframe and logistics tail. For an airframe that needs to do both, give me the 400 any day.

  47. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.

    I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  48. Great read!

    I have a question for anyone out there; what would the fuel consumption of the Q400 be like if you were to operate it at ATR speeds? I understand that the Q400 is suppose to be a “prop jet”, however I am curious to see how it would stack up when operated as a “turbo prop”.

    I have also heard that the Dash 8 requires significantly more runway to land on when compared to the ATR. Are there any rough figures?

  49. Such a good read. Very informative and entertaining. 🙂 Not tried the Q400 but the Wings Air ATR72 I was on was pretty comfortable especially being right beneath the wing.
    I must say that Virgin Australia does operate their ATR 72. Hence, not non existent. 🙂

  50. Terry Lee Davis said:

    The first time I ever saw an ATR, I was surprised at the narrow chord of the wing. In fact, it reminded me of the B-26, which was called “the flying prostitute”, for having “no visible means of support”! I am not a pilot, and have only a hobbyist’s interest in aviation, but it always seemed to me that economics was the driving force behind the design of the ATR, and that safety margins were cut too close. This seems to be one of the best articles on the aircraft available, and I will study it to see if my suspicions have any basis in fact. After the crash in Taiwan today (engine failure on takeoff is the kiss of death for twins unless the pilot is very experienced), I suspect that more wing area might have come in handy in preventing a tip stall. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that these aircraft are still in service with the original wing design. Am I totally off base here??

  51. For pilots point of view Q400 loves gusting x-winds and handels really well. ATR 72 doesn’t, its way worse than the Q when it gets windy 😉

    • starjack22 said:

      Some of the old Dash 8s including the Q300 Series couldn’t handle gusting winds as well. But could the Q400 handled flying into a cloud?

  52. BENJAMIN WU said:

    This is a great article! Very well written and detailed! As a pilot also I enjoyed these kind of articles. Do you mind if I Translate this article and post it to aviation discussion forums with the original link and author name attached? That would be great! Thanks!

  53. talex8477 said:

    True…Island Air is phasing out its ATR 72’s for Q400’s. Now I understand why.

  54. Winston Derrick said:

    Having flown on both the Q400 and ATR 42/72 -600 I can tell you the Q400 is a much smoother ride. The Q400 PTU operation is annoying and the dutch roll can be quite unnerving. But pilots have commented if there is a cloud within 100 feet of an ATR you will now it. The need to slow down on the ATR to fly through clouds is a major factor in passenger comfort that cannot be overlooked,
    I have maintained the Dash 8 100/300 aircraft for almost 20 years from line maintenance to C Checks and can tell you it is one sturdy platform with all around very good performance. I have gone on several test flights on the Dash 8 100/300 aircraft including a stall in less than VFR conditions, the aircraft tend to be very stable and flight crew are very confident in the aircraft in all conditions. The Dash 8’s flight performance (all series) is far superior to the ATR 42/72-600.
    We recently decided to phase out the Dash 8 for the newest version of the ATR and while the crew like the cockpit, it is extremely cramped to get into and out of. The biggest difference is the heavier flight controls on the ATR has had an affect on crews, in one instance a first officer was off work for several months due to a minor shoulder injury that was aggravated during type training, in another instance a simulator ride had to be rescheduled when a crew member started getting back pain during a long simulator check ride the previous day.
    The fuel burn of the ATR versus the Q400 and the extremely forgiving MEL (something Bombardier could learn from) make it a serious challenger to the Dash 8, and if operating from larger airports with multiple runways it is the aircraft of choice (The narrow gear makes it a bit more challenging during cross winds). The Dash 8 is more forgiving in all terrain, single runway airports with cross winds, wind shear, down wind takeoffs, etc.
    While the fuel burn of the Q400 is higher than the 72-600, the fuel burn of the Q300 is less than the comparable 42-600 and should be considered for narrower routes.
    The ATR is suffering from corrosion, our first ATR required several seat rail replacements on its first C Check (just under 2 years of operating in the tropics). There are minor issues with the reliability of the avionics package on the ATR but there are ongoing Mods to address these and hopefully it will be better within the next few years. Anyone choosing to change to the ATR needs to know the training documentation is horrendous, that is also being updated as we speak, the Maintenance Manuals are also full of mistakes and in need of serious attention. On the first A Check I participated in approximately 30% of the job cards contained errors.
    The choice really comes down to operating environment and stage length, shorter stage lengths and developed airports favor the ATR while longer flights, variable weather and airfield restrictions favor the Dash 8.

  55. Bobby Resorte said:

    I`m a captain of ATR72-600 at a large Brazilian regional airline. When I was first introduced to ATR 72/42 four years ago, I really found everything extremely strange and weird, starting with Airplane Flight Manual and Flight Crew Operating Manual (AFM and FCOM). Sorry Winston Derrick, but I also consider ATR MEL an horrible nightmare (I wonder that of Q400…).

    My Boeing backup experience probably affected me adversely, yes, but this is probably the most difficult aircraft I ever operated in 38 years of profession, including the hardest of all rudder pedals and ailerons of any aircaft I know! I`m prety aware of fuel efficiency issues when comparing both aircrafts, but what is most annoying for me as an everyday ATR pilot is the sluggish and ridiculous climb and altitude capability of ATR 72-600: I`m talking about 22-25 minutes to reach FL160-180 at ATOWs only 2 or 3 tons below MTOW. And vertical speeds reaching such cruise altitudes are usually around 200-300 ft/min. My opinion about that is ATR isn`t really capable of flying on that charted (and official) altitudes – my mother used to say about impossible feats: “You cannot take a step longer than the size of your legs”. I believe my mother was right and ATR engineers are super optimistics, including ATR72 capabilities to fly in icing conditions.

    Moreover: one extremely important aspect not mentioned on article above is the fact – extremely irritating and annoying for all passengers – that unboarding must be done aft cabin first, while holding all other forward paxes until the last aft pax unboard. Not doing that risks the aircraft rise the nose and the compulsory tail prop at the tail cone to hit the ground. Obsolete back entrance door promotes such behaviour, something absent on regular front door Q400s.

    However, I`m not totally unsatisfied with that french turboprop at all, unless ATR feel that their products are an absolut success. In this case I need to say they`re far from having a perfect product and suggest them:
    1st) There`s a MOD for front door/lavatory on ATRs – turn it STANDARD on next versions;
    2nd) 3,500 to 4,000 shp engines on completely new nacelles (with better ventilation on right engine and exhaust tubes upwards, PLEASE!) This will provide the flexibility that an ATR does not;
    3rd) Redesigning of ATR cockpits ergonomics – they`re horrendous, specially on -600s (for the first time in my life I`m flying an aircraft with PFD dislodged to the left, instead of well in front of my eyes!);
    4th) Enhancement on Hotel Mode operation – (I don`t know if an APU will solve the problem, but) ATRs, with proppeler brakes activated and No.2 engine running even at idle, are one of the noisiest aircraft on ground; and
    5th) Please hire Flight Safety International to write OPR manuals – they`re professionals and dedicated to such tasks, something that ATR is not. Period.

  56. Bobby Resorte said:

    I`m a captain of ATR72-600 at a large Brazilian regional airline. When I was first introduced to ATR 72/42 four years ago, I really found everything extremely strange and weird, starting with Airplane Flight Manual and Flight Crew Operating Manual (AFM and FCOM). Sorry Winston Derrick, but I also consider ATR MEL an horrible nightmare (I wonder that of Q400…).

    My Boeing backup experience probably affected me adversely, yes, but this is probably the most difficult aircraft I ever operated in 38 years, including the hardest of all rudder pedals and ailerons of any aircaft I know! I`m prety aware of fuel efficiency issues when comparing both aircrafts, but what is most annoying for me as an everyday ATR pilot is the sluggish and ridiculous climb and altitude capability of ATR 72-600: I`m talking about 22-25 minutes to reach FL160-180 at ATOWs only 2 or 3 tons below MTOW. And vertical speeds reaching such cruise altitudes are usually around 200-300 ft/min. My opinion about that is ATR isn`t really capable of flying on that charted (and official) altitudes – my mother used to say about impossible feats: “You cannot take a step longer than the size of your legs”. I believe my mother was right and ATR engineers are super optimistics.

    Moreover: one extremely important aspect not mentioned on article above is the fact – extremely irritating and annoying for all passengers – that unboarding must be done aft cabin first, while holding all other forward paxes until the last aft pax unboard. Not doing that risks the aircraft rise the nose and the compulsory tail prop at the tail cone to hit the ground. Obsolete back entrance door promotes such behaviour, something absent on regular front door Q400s.

    However, I`m not totally unsatisfied with that french turboprop at all, unless ATR feel that their products are an absolut success. In this case I need to say they`re far from having a perfect product and suggest them:
    1st) There`s a MOD for front door/lavatory on ATRs – turn it STANDARD on next versions;
    2nd) 3,500 to 4,000 shp engines on completely new nacelles (with better ventilation on right engine and exhaust tubes upwards, PLEASE!) This will provide the flexibility that an ATR does not;
    3rd) Redesigning of ATR cockpits ergonomics – they`re horrendous, specially on -600s (for the first time in my life I`m flying an aircraft with PFD dislodged to the left, instead of well in front of my eyes!);
    4th) Enhancement on Hotel Mode operation – (I don`t know if an APU will solve the problem, but) ATRs, with proppeler brakes activated and No.2 engine running even at idle, are one of the noisiest aircraft on ground; and
    5th) Please hire Flight Safety International to write OPR manuals – they`re professional and dedicated to such tasks, something that ATR is not. Period.

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