Much of the industry attention is focused on airplanes over 150 seats – after all that is where the big orders are. But data on the regional market – less than 100 seats – shows interesting patterns. Rather than focus on total range, take a look at how airliners really get used. Using the US DoT T-100 data (2011 thru August) we see the following.
Among the turboprops the Embraer Brasilia did the longest flights and the segment clearly tops out at 200 miles. SkyWest accounted for 93% the E120 data and does much of this flying in the western part of the US where segments tend to be longer. The DHC8 flights are influenced by Piedmont (US Airways) accounting for 59%. These flights are typically feeder traffic into Philadelphia and as one would expect in the northeast, short routes.
The data suggests that OEMs should focus on this market because it is defined and has prospects – a lightweight turboprop with appropriate range is what airlines are going to look for as they update their fleets. SkyWest being the key re-fleet customer to watch.
Among the next group, with ranges between 300 miles and 600 miles we see a more complex display. This is a part of the market that is likely to be the most disrupted because the smaller jets are not economically effective at current fuel prices. The smaller group is below the thin white line – the 50-seat market threatened by the high speed turboprop and high fuel prices.
Note that the Q400, a high speed turboprop is in the hunt. Looking at the Air Time numbers you can see that a high speed turboprop is competitive. The amount of additional time required to serve a route with a turboprop is small compared to a jet – and at 40% lower fuel burn this is compelling and the tradeoff is attractive.
In terms of the larger regional jets it should be noted they are now flying segments that compares with those flown by 717s and 737 Classics. Therefore we see this segment as moving in two directions – regional jets growing larger and the high speed turboprop taking over from the smaller regional jets. Airlines with fleets with “horses for courses” (like Lufthansa) rather than standardizing on fewer types might be doing the smart thing.