General Aviation Single & Twin EngineTurboprops Aircraft.
It is this segment of the industry where the greatest strides have been made towards turboprop power and no more so that the development of the Beech crafts King Air range.
When the T-tailed Super King Air made its debut in the mid-1970s it was greeted with a somewhat mixed reaction. One aviation observer in Johannesburg, in fact, forecast that total sales in the region were unlikely to exceed a hundred or so-he was so far out that it is laughable.
For example, Beech craft Corporation announced recently at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland, that the fleet of Beech craft King Air twin-engine turboprops registered in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) had surpassed 825 aircraft.
The company’s static display at EBACE included three current production models: Beech craft King Air C90GTx, King Air 250 and Special Mission King Air 350ER.”The King Air line-renowned for its versatility and reliability-is a great fit for the growing business aviation market in the EMEA regions. In Europe alone, eve delivered 450 King Airs across all models,” said Christi Tannahill, Beech crafts senior vice president, Turboprop Aircraft. Analysis of industry data shows that business turboprops are becoming more popular with operators in EMEA markets, with the largest fleets based in South Africa, France and United Kingdom.
The analysis also reveals that there are around 1500 business turboprops registered in EM EA-accounting for 30% of the business aviation market segment. This year, Beech craft celebrates the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the business turboprop King Air series, which is one of the best-selling business aircraft models.
At last count, there was estimated to be some 200 King Airs of various models permanently employed in strictly airline-style duties around the world. The number which serve as both corporate and commuter machines, has yet to be accurately estimated, but there are many such aircraft in operation in Africa, particularly East Africa. And a number of companies are involved in improving the already successful King Air ranges; examples being Black hawk Modifications, Texas Turbines and Reinbeck Engineering .
The first two mentioned specialize in more powerful engines, while Raisbeck offers variety of modifications to greatly improve performance in other ways. Truly, the Beech craft King Air range can be described as one of the greatest achievements in general aviation history. Not only is it a private and corporate aircraft, but it fits in nicely in the heavier commuter airliner segment in which there are many types, such as the Dornier 228s and 328,the Fair child Expediter and Metro, the BAE Jet stream,the merlin marques,Shorts and Swearingen.
The CASA division of Airbus Defense and Space produces a number of twin-engine types, the vast majority being as military transports, as well as performing other duties such as cargo transport, airborne surveillance etc, with under 20 registered in the airline business. Cessna and Piper no longer produce twin-engine turboprop models, although a very limited number are still to come off the line at the Polish PZL factory with the An-28, and at Reims, in France, with the F406. Single –Engine Turboprops The Cessna 208 Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan and now the Grand Caravan EX are without doubt the most prolifically –produced single-engine turboprop aircraft in the world. The number of countries where at least on of these models is operational can arguably be countered on the fingers of one hand-if at all.
In Africa, the Caravan workhorse is seen as a “nation builder” acting as a private aircraft,a mini-airliner-cum-commuter, an air ambulance and in a hundred-and-one other roles which virtually defy categorization. They can be found in every country in varying numbers with the greatest concentration being in East Africa, and particularly in Kenya and Tanzania where, for instance, the game parks rely almost exclusively on the Caravan for the movement of visitors in an out.Botswana is another country whose parks rely on this aircraft type to a great degree.
With these aircraft flying day in and day out, and operating almost predominately from short, rough, unpaved airstrips, maintenance on airframes and engines are the key cost factors. The turboprop engines stand up to unbelievably heavy use, small wonder that companies like Black hawk Maintenance and Texas Turbines find a ready market for their powerful power plants which offer operators greater payload, faster speed and climb rates and overall improved performance when compared with the original models. Cessna has countered this competition by producing the latest in the Caravan series, the EX of which the 100th example recently came off the assembly line.
The Quest Kodiak 100 is a new single-engine turboprop along the same lines as the Caravan which was recently introduced to Africa. The Swiss Pilatus PC-12 and its various marques, as well as the PC-6 are also employed to a limited extent in commuter airline operations in some African countries, although the PC-12s greatest appeal is as a corporate aircraft. In completion with the Pilatus aircraft is the Socata TBM 850 single turboprop, joined recently by the latest version, the TBM-900 .There is also the Piper Malibu “Jet prop” on the market, although only one of these is known to be used as a commuter airliner.
Perhaps the cost of a turbine engine versus that of a piston-powered engine is a limiting factor in the private aircraft field, but there is change there, too, with the advent of the turbo Jet A1/diesel engines now becoming more prolific on the market. The growing shortage and increasing price of av-gas are the main factors which are generating this change and only the over-optimistic argue that av-gas is here to stay.
That is not what the oil companies are saying and it is really a fair bet that turboprops will soon become popular in the lower levels of private aircraft. Turboprop engines have already been fitted to a few Beech craft Bonanzas with surprising performance results. One tends to wonder just how long it will be before all sectors of general aviation aircraft will be turbine or diesel –powered. General aviation have ventured into single-turboprop aircraft for their private and scheduled flights mainly in Africa to game parks, major cities and remote areas.
The turboprop single engine aircraft have short takeoff and landing performance and can land on rough, unpaved airfields and also are economical as they use Jet A-1 fuel which is cheaper. For VIP charter flights and commuter airlines business the turboprop twin engine are playing vital role for regional and domestic daily scheduled flights.
Most airlines and private operators in Africa have turboprop single and twin engine in their fleet e.g,Donni er 228,Shorts,B1900 C/D,Super King Air 250/350i,ATR 42,PC-12 & 6 among many others for air ambulance, scheduled flights,VIP ,business jet, private air taxi flights and tourists flights. Anthony A Juma is the Editor and Director Commercial and Flights Operations at Wings Over Africa Aviation Limited.