Single-engine Turboprops Set to Launch in Europe

Best of the PT6 Nation Soar With the PT6


*Article published on / Contributor: Rod Simpson*

At long last, the holy grail of approval for single-engine aircraft under instrument flight rules may be in sight. It offers the promise of a much-needed boost to European charter operators.

“This will be a shot in the arm for the charter industry in Europe,” says Edwin Breninkmeyer, CEO of the UK Pilatus representatives Oriens Aviation.

Since 1998, the United States has allowed single-engines aircraft, such as the Pilatus PC-12 andCessna Caravan, to be used on Part 135 commercial night/IMC operations that carry freight and passengers. Today, just under 700 single-engine aircraft are employed in North America and, in particular, the Pilatus PC-12 is highly popularity with local charter companies.

Charter operators love the low operating costs compared with, say, a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air, which needs twice the engine maintenance. Aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan and PC-12 have also been approved for single-engine IMC (Instrument Metrological Conditions) in countries such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand since the mid-1990s. But Europe has resolutely refused to sanction such operations, other than for cargo flights carried out in a handful of countries such as France, Greece, Norway and Spain. Bizarrely, while it is currently illegal to carry fare-paying passengers, it is quite legitimate for a privately-owned and operated single-engine turboprop to fly in night/IMC conditions.

Single-engine Aircraft Are Safe

During the past 15 years, a succession of studies and consultations has delayed a meaningful decision across Europe. At last, however, it appears the logjam has been broken. Recent moves have foundEASA  and the UK’s CAA taking a new tack to allow turbine-powered aircraft that meet specified engine reliability, equipment, operating and maintenance requirements to operate commercial air transport operations at night or in IMC. EASA anticipates completing its rulemaking in September, after which it will go to the European Commission. Finalization is anticipated in the first half of next year, if all goes as planned.

However, the UK’s CAA will pre-empt the final European rule and SE/IMC commercial flights. British operators will be approved after October. This has been received enthusiastically by charter companies who are getting to work on producing Standard Operating Procedures manuals in preparation for launch of services.

At the heart of the matter is the risk of engine failure in a single-engine aircraft, but the reliability of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop, which is the engine of choice for these aircraft, is such that a high level of safety is guaranteed. Many other faults may cause an in-flight emergency, but, generally, the engine is unlikely to be the culprit.

Also read: Single-engines could benefit European bizav

EASA has concluded that the major risks for flight safety are related to human factors and weather issues with CFIT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) and loss of control being the main outcomes. When it comes to engine reliability, it is commonly accepted that the in-flight shut down rate for a PT6A is around one in 370,000 flight hours. A survey in 2005 showed that the three most common turboprop singles (the Cessna Caravan, Pilatus PC-12 and TBM 700 series) suffered just 21 fatal accidents in 5.5 million hours, which amounts to a very low risk indeed. Many of these accidents were not connected to engine failure. What is more, many pilots have stated that losing an engine in a twin aircraft does not guarantee a safe outcome due to the stress and workload involved in coping with asymmetric flight, often in bad weather conditions. 

Strong Demand for Single-engine

Speaking recently at the BBGA Conference in London, Breninkmeyer said there is strong demand for aircraft such as the PC-12 because of the attractive operating costs of these aircraft. He adds that customers seem to be quite comfortable with flying in a single-engine aircraft so long as they have confidence in the operator, and the price is right.

London-Oxford Airport Business Development Director James Dillon-Godfray has seen an increase in business turboprop traffic as operators focus on reducing their costs. Dillon-Godfray envisions a completely new market opening up.

“New routes could open up between hard-to-access city pairs at costs which can be less than other public transport such as trains, and there are many smaller airfields which are not open to jets but will easily accept a Caravan or PC-12,” says he. 

This could well mean that a new range of mini-FBOs could start to appear at smaller general aviation airports, and he sees an opportunity for these aircraft being used as corporate shuttles. Dillon-Godfray adds that there can be a huge saving for companies that regularly need to move staff between locations 200-300 miles apart, and whose staff would otherwise face three- or four-hour road journeys.

Industry guru Richard Koe, of the German-based WingX Advance, points out that the market for high-performance, single-engine aircraft has seen a compound growth rate of 16 percent in the last decade. There are around 2,000 such aircraft currently active in Europe. Koe feels that charter brokers in Europe will see a great opportunity to exploit the low pricing and operational versatility that the single-turboprop aircraft offer.

It remains to be seen if these aircraft will steal market share from the light jets and turboprop twins. However, the consensus opinion at the BBGA forum was that this was a new market segment that would expand rather than threaten the charter market, and that operators of jets and turboprop twins would be unwise to cut their prices in order to compete.

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COVER PHOTO: Photo by TBM Daher / TBM 930 & TBM 900