“The ATR is an airplane that is built for fuel economy. Given that fuel is one of the 3 largest portions of an airlines annual operating budget this is a big deal.”
After reading BFP’s “What’s with LIAT’s choice for new aircraft?”, I have to conclude that Adrian Loveridge might be a tourism expert – but he is no aviation expert and that is certain. Let me give you some enlightenment on the aircraft choice here in question.
For one the Caribbean market is a small and fragmented. Experience has shown that the 50 seat size is about the largest size of aircraft that is sustainable on inter-regional routes. Even so there are many routes which will struggle to fill 50 seats. This is why for years LIAT continued to operate 3 Dash 8-100s. With 37 seats they could provide route frequency on certain lower density routes and still maintain high load factors. Any time you are flying around with empty seats its bad for business and flying around below your breakeven load factor just means that segment is losing money and being subsidised by other routes.
Herein lies the inherent problem with the Q400. It is a 70 seat aircraft.
Additionally it is also a turbo-prop designed as a light jet replacement what that means is that yes, while it is fast it achieves this speed by giving up fuel efficiency. The break even for an industry standard Q400 on the high density low cost Indian and European markets is approximately 57 – 60% It is estimated that in the higher cost operating environment in the Caribbean the breakeven load factor for the Q400 would be in the range of 66 – 70% which means you would need to fill 45 – 47 seats approximately on average just to break even. This would prove difficult in the current travel climate in the Caribbean.
The other problem with the Q400 is airfield limitations. Some airfields in the LIAT network would require the aircraft to be weight limited for departure due to the field length or the proximity of terrain and obstacles or tailwinds. St. Vincent is not the only consideration. This means possibly cutting some services (Nevis for example) and that you would be limited as to how many passengers and bags you can carry out of some places.
For this trade off what does the Q400 bring to the table? Effectively nothing.
The sector time reductions on the short routes in the Caribbean will largely be negligible, less than 3 minutes tops on a BGI-SLU this has been proven using flight network analysis software. On longer routes like BGI-ANU, BGI-GEO or POS-CUR you might see more noticeable reduction but that’s about it and that represents only a small number of the daily flights.
Moreover, the Q400 does not bring anything new to the table it does not give you the ability to really reach any new routes. Geographically if you look at the LIAT network and the destinations they fly to and then examine the next logical destinations you find that aside from a few like Venezuela and some parts of south America via Guyana (which can be served with the Dash 8-300 anyway) those destinations are an order of magnitude further away in distance and outside the effective operating range of the Q400 for direct operations. Jamaican for example would be out of reach and would require an intermediate stop in SDQ.
Even with the Q400 in the fleet these destinations would still require the use of a jet to service effectively.
The argument for the ATR-42-600 and the ATR-72-600 is much more logical.
For starters, the ATR-42-600 at 48 seats is the only current production ’50 seat’ turbo prop.
It is an airplane that is built for fuel economy. Given that fuel is one of the 3 largest portions of an airlines annual operating budget this is a big deal. The ATR-42-600 is 45% more fuel efficient than the Dash 8-310s and 315’s that LIAT currently fly and is 20 kts faster in cruise. It is approximately 33% more fuel efficient than the Q400 all be it slower. However on short sectors (100-150 NM) which form the bulk of the Caribbean routes the sector time difference is 5 minutes or less.
Additionally the ATR option allows you to buy majority 42s to serve your core routes but also a smaller number of 70 seats ATR-72-600’s. The 70 seat aircraft can be used to serve some of the more dense routes without having to have an all 70 seat fleet. Additionally because the 2 aircraft are variants of the same type multiple pilot pools is not required. All LIAT crew will be type rated on the 72 with a differences course on the 42 making them type rated to operate either type as needed. In the same way that all Liat pilots currently hold the Dash 8-300 and 100 type ratings and can fly either.
LIAT is embarking on a full fleet replacement. Which means the argument of mixed type issues such as maintaining 2 sets of crew, parts etc is null and void. The two aircraft types (Dash 8 and ATR) will only be operated concurrently for a short time during the transition. The fleet is expected to be fully converted by the middle to end of 2014.
Once that is done, the company has stated its intent to explore the single aisle jet option (the EMB-190) for example as a means to expand its network of operations outside of those destinations now served.
With regards to performance issues with the ATR based on the reports of those aircraft bought by CAL. One needs to understand what you are talking about. CAL bought the ATR-72-600. However the aircraft is available in several configurations depending on your wants and needs. The ATR-600 (both the 42 and the 72) uses PW127 engine which is available in 3 variants E, F, and M.
Basically ATR understanding that not every customer depending on their operating environment needs the full thrust of the engine so the E and F model of the engine are de-rated versions of the engine that do not produce as much thrust as the M model. If you are an operator flying in cold weather at low density altitudes into and out of long runways the E or F model is fine. CAL has the F model (and the -72) and it has proven it’s self as the wrong choice for this environment. The aircraft on order for LIAT are M models (not de-rated) and should provide much better performance.
Additionally since the SAME engine is used on both the -72 and the -42 variant of the aircraft that means that the performance boost on the much smaller -42 should be large (same engine smaller plane).
Additionally CAL for whatever reason opted for aircraft with on board inflight entertainment systems. This is really a waste as sector times in the Caribbean are for the most part too short for passengers to really get any use out of the system.
What it does do is increase the empty weight of the aircraft significantly. Now since the maximum unrestricted take-off weight does not change, what that means is you are cutting into your available weight for passenger and bag carriage this is why for example on some longer legs a lot of the time a large portion of the bags do not make it, they are taken off due to the weight restriction.
Even if you are not at max weight, an increase in weight carries and performance penalty and will impact climb performance and with the weight of the entertainment system you are essentially operating closer to MTOW (max take-off weight) and higher proportion of the time. The inflight entertainment system of course, is OPTIONAL.
Food for thought, as always the devil is in the details.