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While turboprop manufacturers are reporting positive growth in sales and turboprops have remained a major component of regional air carriers flying in the world, the United States has not followed world trends. Turboprop fleets and sales are down significantly since the mid-1990s. As of mid-2017, there are no signs indicating that trend is reversing. U.S. air carriers do not have any turboprop airplanes on order; to date, only 300 are currently flying in the country, with an average age of 21 years. Meanwhile, in 2013, total orders for turboprop aircraft only reached 164 aircraft between ATR and Bombardier (a number consistent with industry forecasts for 2014-2033), causing Brazilian manufacturer Embraer to forego re-entry into the turboprop market. However, reports at the 2017 Paris Air Show suggest that the company’s stance might change, with a 90-seat turboprop potentially in the works.
Recently, European airframer ATR tried to pitch its turboprop fleets to North America as a low-cost option for shorter routes, potentially replacing regional jets as well as existing turboprops. Currently, their only U.S. customer is FedEx; the last major order by a U.S. firm was placed Mesaba Aviation, a Minneapolis company, in 1996. However, lowered costs of fuel could lead to an eventual resurgence of turboprop craft. Average variable costs per hour, including fuel, tend to run slightly lower for turboprops compared to jets, although so do their carrying capacities and ranges.
Existing turboprop fleets worldwide have seen a growing number of safety concerns. In China, the Modern Ark 60 (MA60) has had a poor safety record, with frequent brake, steering, and landing gear failures. Over 11% of such vehicles have been damaged beyond repair since their inception, clouding China’s aviation future. Furthermore, the production company allegedly failed to disclose certain safety information to buyers, despite legal obligations. Meanwhile, in Australia, an incident in 2014 involving a pitch disconnect in an ATR72 has led to greater scrutiny of turboprop manufacturers Virgin and Toll, including monthly reports to the Civil Aviation Safety Agency (CASA). These mechanical issues suggest closer examinations of turboprop planes on the whole.

Potential hazard

  1. NTSB noted lack of regulatory requirements or regulatory oversight as a probable cause or contributing factor to several aircraft accidents operated by part 135 commuter air carriers:
  2. Northwest Airlink 5719 (Express II Airlines) – December 1, 1993 (CFIT)
  3. United Express 6291 (Atlantic Coast Airlines) – January 7, 1994 (LOC-I)
  4. American Eagle 3379 (Flagship Airlines) – December 13, 1994 (LOC-I)
    Loss of expertise and know-how, know-where
    The FAA published a final rule requiring most part 135 commuter operators offering scheduled service in turbojets or turboprops with greater than nine seats to operate under 14 CFR part 121.
    Average age of the U.S. turboprop fleet is increasing, leading to greater risk of maintenance and safety hazards.

Corroborating sources and comments

Regional Aircraft Trends, presentation to CAST JIMDAT, February 2013. Turboprop orders are directly correlated with fuel prices.

As a percentage of regional fleets, turboprops represented ~100% in 1980 and ~21% in 2011.

Turboprops: All turboprops >12,500 lbs used in passenger air carrier operations

Regional fleet: All turboprops >12,500 lbs and Antonov An–148, Bae–146/Avro, Bombardier CRJ (All series), Embraer 135/140/145/170/175/190/195, Dornier 328JET, Fokker F28/70/100, Sukhoi Superjet 100, and Yakovlev Yak–40 in passenger air carrier operations

Source: Ascend Online

The U.S. turboprop and piston fleet is expected to decrease from 33.5 percent of the regional share in 2011 (860 aircraft) to 18.9 percent of the regional share in 2032 (564 aircraft).

Source: FAA Aerospace Forecast, 2012. , p. 50. Includes all aircraft in scheduled passenger service, including piston-powered airplanes and turboprops weighing less than 12,500 lbs. (Examination of China’s chief turboprop carrier, the Modern Ark 60, and its spotty safety record. Hydraulic-pressure drops causing steering and brake failures, crash landings, and mishaps, often with fatal consequences, have made the MA60 a major risk and clouded China’s aviation future. The production company also failed to disclose certain safety information to buyers, but denied any safety defects and blamed the accidents on pilot failure.) (In 2017, WestJet Encore signed an order for nine of Bombadier’s Q400 Turboprops. Bombadier used the example to reinforce its “domination” of the North American turboprop market. However, while the planes service stations in both the U.S. and Canada, their operations are based primarily in the latter.) (European airframer ATR tried to pitch its turboprop fleets to North America as a low-cost option for shorter routes. As of 2016, the company’s only customer was FedEx. 300 turboprops are currently flying in the U.S., with an average age of 21 years. ATR CEO Patrick del Castelbajac sees the market for U.S. turboprop craft as maxing at out 500, including regional jet replacements. The plane is optimized for the U.S. market and carries a price tag of $26.8 million.) (Comparison of hourly operating costs for jets and turboprops. Average variable costs per hour tend to run slightly lower for turboprops, but so do carrying capacity and range.) (Can’t get at this, but it would be super helpful.) (Textron Aviation has found buyers for its new single-engine turboprop as of 2016, but it hasn’t said where those buyers are. Its first flight is scheduled for 2018.) (Another safety incident involving turboprops, this time in Australia. In 2014, an ATR72’s left and right elevator control systems decoupled during descent, leading to loss of aircraft control. The aerodynamic loads damaged the craft and the pilot, leading to increased safety measures and checks. CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, now demands monthly reports from Virgin and Toll, the companies producing turboprop airplanes.) (Investigation into a propeller loss incident on a turboprop in Australia.)

* (Embraer’s stance in 2013)

* (Embraer’s stance now)

* (Overall state of the turboprop market in 2016; it’s slated to grow, but not by much.)

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