Turboprop vs. Turbofan

Real world airlines tell us that on short routes turboprop aircraft are just as fast as jets. I’ve done the same analysis in FS to see if this is true and valuable information for virtual airlines.

Many airlines use Dash 8’s and ATR’s on short routes to compete against rival airlines that use jets such as Fokker 70/100’s, CRJ 200/700’s, and the newer Embraer 190/195’s. They claim that modern day turboprops are more fuel efficient and just as fast as jets on short routes that demand less than 100 passengers per flight. Also, maintaining turboprop aircraft are said to be cheaper than jets. I’ll leave that topic alone because airlines are very tight about their costs of running an aircraft making research impossible. Indeed, if the government was as good at keeping secrets as the airlines, WikiLeaks would be out of business.

So, let’s go through the parameters I’ve set. First I’ve chosen the aircraft listed below in the chart. The ATR-72 is from Flight1, CRJ’s and EMB’s from Wilco, Dash 8-Q300 from PSS, and the Fokkers are the freeware Project Fokker offerings. All were tested in FS 2004 in order to maintain equality.

 

aircraft

publisher

ATR-72

Flight1

Bae 146-200

Aerosoft

CRJ-200

Wilco

CRJ-700

Wilco

Dash-8 Q300

PSS

Embraer ERJ190/195

Wilco

Fokker F100

Project Fokker

Fokker F70

Project Fokker

 

There were 322 flights done in all. Now, I won’t lie to you, I did not do all of these flights since my last article on the A320/B738 comparison. I’ve been running a Virtual Airline, AmEuro (http://www.ameurova.com), for over 10 years and I’ve taken my FS 2004 flight records from our database. I keep very accurate records of all my flights because I am a statistics freak and now I get to use this info for the good of the community, too.

I looked at flights 200nm or less, between 201 and 300nm, and between 301 and 400 nm to see where the point is that we start seeing an advantage of one over the other in terms of flight times and fuel burn. I did not have enough data for flights over 400 nm to make a fair comparison and that’s where I stopped.

200 nm or less

aircraft

flights

avg time

score

avg gal/nm

score

overall score

ATR-72

33

0.80

1.0

1.02

1

2.0

Dash-8 Q300

47

0.84

1.0

1.23

1.2

2.2

CRJ-700

7

0.93

1.2

1.53

1.5

2.7

CRJ-200

9

0.80

1.0

1.69

1.7

2.7

Embraer ERJ190/195

10

0.90

1.1

2.57

2.5

3.6

Fokker F70

9

0.82

1.0

3.20

3.1

4.1

Bae 146-200

5

0.98

1.2

3.17

3.1

4.3

Fokker F100

20

0.88

1.1

3.30

3.2

4.3

 

201 – 300 nm

aircraft

flights

avg time

score

avg gal/nm

score

overall score

ATR-72

4

1.30

1.3

0.91

1.0

2.3

CRJ-700

7

0.97

1.0

1.30

1.4

2.4

Dash-8 Q300

21

1.25

1.3

1.00

1.1

2.4

CRJ-200

16

1.15

1.2

1.56

1.7

2.9

Fokker F70

15

1.15

1.2

2.51

2.7

3.9

Bae 146-200

10

1.18

1.2

2.42

2.7

3.9

Embraer ERJ190/195

6

1.13

1.2

2.56

2.8

4.0

Fokker F100

26

1.12

1.2

2.71

3.0

4.2

 

301 – 400 nm

aircraft

flights

avg time

score

avg gal/nm

score

overall score

ATR-72

5

1.75

1.6

0.89

1.0

2.6

Dash-8 Q300

14

1.69

1.5

0.98

1.1

2.6

CRJ-700

5

1.28

1.1

1.70

1.9

3.0

CRJ-200

7

1.31

1.2

1.58

1.8

3.0

Embraer ERJ190/195

11

1.30

1.2

1.97

2.2

3.4

Fokker F70

7

1.11

1.0

2.43

2.7

3.7

Fokker F100

24

1.30

1.2

2.32

2.6

3.8

Bae 146-200

4

1.45

1.3

2.30

2.6

3.9

 

So we have all this data and now you are wondering, “how did I come up with the score?” I ranked each stat and gave the best a score of 1. The scores for the others in the category are calculated by dividing the stat by the same stat for the best aircraft. In effect, it tells you how many times worst the aircraft is than the best aircraft.  The lower the score the better the aircraft is overall. Within each category you can see the score so that you may determine the best aircraft in that particular sector.

 

overall

aircraft

score

ATR-72

6.9

Dash-8 Q300

7.2

CRJ-700

8.1

CRJ-200

8.6

Embraer ERJ190/195

11.0

Fokker F70

11.7

Bae 146-200

12.1

Fokker F100

12.3

 

Overall, the ATR-72 was the best aircraft but to be honest the scores were very close. The Dash 8 Q300 was second and the CRJ-700 third. Take into consideration the fuel burn of each aircraft over the distance of the route. For example, on a route of less than 200nm the ERJ 190 may burn up two and a half times as much fuel as the ATR-72 while only reaching its destination 6 minutes earlier. That can cost your virtual airline $350 with today’s fuel prices.

One may consider using turboprops on routes less than 300nm and then switching to jets over 300nm due to the time enroute. At this point you will probably see more daily flights (higher utilization) with the jet and will then make more profit per day.

Now why do turboprop aircraft perform so well on short routes? The answer is in physics. A jet will fly faster and therefore will take more distance to make a turn. A wider arc you can say. If you are taking off on runway 18 and then turn to a heading of 360 the turboprop, typically traveling at 170 knots gs (groundspeed), will make a tighter turn than the jet traveling at 240 knots gs. The same goes for landing. The turboprop can turn faster and therefore you can turn onto final sooner than a jet. Also, the take-off run is shorter for turboprops and you will begin your turn to the 360 heading sooner. I can attest to this as I’ve seen it in action. At CYYZ a Dash 8 will take-off on runway 23 and begin it’s turn to 360 before it’s even reached the end of the runway. A CRJ, on the other hand, will start it’s turn a couple of nm beyond the end of the runway and be at a higher gs making a bigger turn. This may also have to do with noise regulations but that’s another advantage of the turboprop.

Out of interest I threw in the BAE 146-200. It has 4 jet engines and I was curious to see how it stacked up against the other aircraft in this category. Not too good, but I still enjoy flying this aircraft.

I hope you have found this article interesting and helpful in choosing an aircraft for your routes.

Keep simming!
Andrew Barter

 

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Colin Ware
Thursday, August 16, 2012 00:40

For this to work, you also have to look at the average leg length and time above 10,000 feet. If you have short legs, both the jets and the turbo props will be constrained by the 250 knot limit – and likely even slower in congested markets.

So yes the jet goes faster, but only above 10K feet. It is not significantly faster say, between, Portland and Seattle to fly on one of horizon’s crjs versus one of their q400s becuase so little of the flight is above $10,000 feet.

KenG
Sunday, August 12, 2012 16:04

Having run the operations, training and maintenance operations of a real world small air operation I can tell you that Specific Fuel Consumption and Seat Mile Cost are not the only things that you look at for a fleet of aircraft. Commonality is a big cost saver in maintenance, training and offers huge flexibility from an operations standpoint. If I have a single aircraft for the 300nm market then a second aircraft for the 300nm to 1000nm market then I must maintain two different aircraft (which increases my cost in maintainers, spare parts, and special tools), I have to have… Read more »

Owen K.
Saturday, August 11, 2012 17:43

Propeller nick and dings sometimes have to be inspected by X-ray or dye penetrant, depending on the damage, just as turbine blades do. However, propellers also have major inspections due where the props have to be pulled and the components inspected at certain hourly intervals. Also, another problem with turboprops is the gear reduction system. The gear reduction system is another big part of engine inspection, especially on major inspections. Then there is the matter of the controllers. They too, must be inspected and tested before returning to service at certain scheduled intervals. Generally, the turbine does have it over… Read more »

Friday, August 10, 2012 22:30

That’s very interesting, Owen, and thanks for your input from the professional side. Jet engines have 20+ blades that have to be maintained. I don’t know much about the toughness of prop vs. jet blades but I have to wonder about the cost, too. The cost of keeping a log on each prop blade has to be very small if you’re just talking about the process of a tech writing his/her findings at each maintenance stop. At a rate of $25/hr(?) it can’t take more than an hour to write the info into the log. I wonder how much logging… Read more »

Owen K.
Friday, August 10, 2012 16:05

Just a comment or two from a former mechanic for a commuter airline. I do find it hard to believe that costs for operating a turboprop are that much less than a pure turbine (jet) engine. First, with two turboprop engines, you have four separate logbooks which must be kept up. One for each engine and one for each propeller. Propeller maintenance costs can run very high. Especially if the aircraft is subjected to FOD which is often found on tarmacs and taxiways of smaller airports. Propellers can be dinged up in a hurry, and these nicks and dings have… Read more »