Since the early part of the 2000s, many predictions by airline experts claimed that the utilisation of turboprop aircraft was declining and close to cease operations worldwide. This theory was mainly supported by the end of production of the Fokker 50, Saab 340/2000, BAE Systems Jetstream 41, ATP, Embraer 120 and the Dornier 328. Simultaneously, the rise in popularity of regional jets like the ERJ family and CRJ among others, also hit turboprop sales that led to the demise of many of the types.
With only 2 major players on the field; ATR and Bombardier were left with not promising expectations and the survival days of their turboprops were counted since the beginning of the millennium, when both manufacturers sold their aircraft in modest numbers for the first decade.
Traffic growth - credits by ATR
Nevertheless, there has been a market revival in the second decade that has brought about a fierce race to the top, mainly boosted by the astonishing rise in crude oil prices that reached a top record of $143 a barrel from $30 a barrel back in 2004. This directly encouraged airlines to reconsider their fleet options for regional operations. Furthermore, efforts by both manufacturers have also played a key factor in this turnaround; ATR and their revamp of the ATR42 and 72 and the launch of their 600 series, and Bombardier with their relatively new model, the Q-400.
Numbers are positive in 2018 and the landscape for this market is stronger than ever before, first; turboprops remain the most economical aircraft for routes up to 400nm (740km) in range and more recently on longer routes, up to 1,000nm (1,850km). Also, 50% of the airports worldwide (+3800) rely exclusively on regional aircraft of which 36% exclusively on turboprops. This has been strengthened by a steady increase in passenger traffic which it is expected to grow by 4,5% by 2037 on the existing network.
However, the most attractive figure is that as new regions emerge, new regional routes will be opened and developed. So, 3,020 new routes are expected to represent an additional 30% of traffic that does not exist today. This represents another protective aspect to this market, as many airports, including in some remote and/or mountainous regions are always likely to require turboprops due to the location and/or length of their runways. Notwithstanding this, the challenge is that limited traffic from some of these locations means the demand is for aircraft smaller than those which are currently in production.
Emerging markets and new routes will drive demand – credits by ATR
ATR has sold nearly 1,700 aircraft with over 700 units of the 600 series, which means 40% of their total sales in 35 years were made in the last 8 years and the company expects +3000 deliveries by 2037 of their 40/60/80 seats series. Hence, this represents their solid position over Bombardier who recognise they have lost market to ATR. However, the Canadian player is now focused on penetrating different hunting grounds (Africa) for its Q-400 series that have a proven track record of success in hot and high conditions. And they are fighting back with a dual class configuration that has been embraced widely by flag carrier airlines in the dark continent.
At Brookfield, we have supported the turboprop market since 1993 and have provided our outstanding pilot solutions with qualified TRE/TRI, Captains and First Officers to numerous ATR-42/72-500-600 and Q-400 operators worldwide. As leaders in the industry, we believe in the bright future of these aircraft and we strongly want to change the perception of cadets and newly licenced pilots entering the industry, to consider these type ratings as a solid, interesting and well remunerated platform for their future career in the skies.