ATR 72 Vs Dash 8 – Which Turboprop Aircraft Is Better?

When it comes to turboprop aircraft, two brand names come to mind. First is the Aerei da Trasporto Regionale 72 (ATR 72), and the other is the De Havilland Canada DHC-8 (Dash 8). However, Which of the two planes is better? Let’s take a look.

Bangkok Air ATR-72
ATR is a leading manufacturer of turboprop aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Which aircraft are we comparing?

If you have flown on a commuter route to a smaller airport, there is a chance that you have flown on board a turboprop aircraft. This type of aircraft has propellers rather than jet engines (turbofan engines specifically) and operates a little slower, but is pressurized and still able to perform a similar journey as a jet aircraft. Turboprops do have some advantages, such as being able to land at smaller airports and being cheaper to operate.

The first aircraft we will be comparing is the ATR 72, named after how many passengers it carries and developed in France by ATR in 1984. ATR is half-owned (50%) by Airbus, and benefits from its technology.

vietnam-airlines-atr-72-getty
ATR’s aircraft have been trusted by airlines all over the globe over the years. Photo: Getty Images

The second aircraft is the DHC-8 (known as the Dash 8, not to be confused with the Dash-80). It was built by a range of builders over the lifetime of the brand (De Havilland in 1984, Boeing in 1988, Bombardier in 1992 and now Longview Aviation Capital in 2019).

As both aircraft types are in extensive use around the world and designed around the same time, they will make a suitable comparison. There are a few types of older ATR 72s, but we will be using the latest (the -600) for this study. As there are four types of Dash 8s (Q100, Q200, Q300, and Q400), we will use the most popular one (Q400) for this comparison.

Porter Airlines
Porter Airlines in Canada solely operates Dash 8 aircraft. Photo: Porter Airlines

Range and capacity

We will start by examining the passenger and range capacities of both aircraft:

  • ATR 72 can transport 70-78 passengers (depending on seat pitch) to a range of 1,528 km (825 nautical miles).
  • Dash 8 Q400 can transport 82-90 passengers (depending on the seat pitch) to a range of 2,040 km (1,100 nautical miles).
air-new-zealand
Air New Zealand has a fleet of ATR 72s. Photo: Biponacci via Wikimedia Commons.

From the above, we can see that the Dash 8 Q400 beats the ATR 72 in range and passenger capacity. It can carry more passengers than the ATR 72 (but only a few more) to a longer range.

QantasLink Q400
The Dash 8 pips the ATR 72 when it comes to to range and capacity. Photo: Getty Images

Fuel efficiency

However, most airlines won’t be using these aircraft to the maximum range and instead for small commuter routes. How does their fuel efficiency compare over a short distance?

Firefly ATR 72
Malaysian outfit Firefly has a fleet of 12 ATR aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

This is where things get a little murkier. According to ATR’s website, the ATR 72 is 39% more efficient in fuel burn over 300 nautical miles. We could conclude that the ATR 72 is far more fuel-efficient than the Q400, but the Q400 carries more passengers. On a fuel burn per seat basis over the same distance, the Q400 comes out 8% ahead.

Additionally, this is assuming that the two aircraft are flying at the same speed to the same distance. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the Q400. The standard top speeds are as follows:

  • ATR 72 cruise speed: 510 km/h (280 kn)
  • Dash 8 Q400 cruise speed: 556–667 km/h (300–360 know). The Q400 also cruises at a higher altitude.

This faster-cruising speed means that the Q400 aircraft gets to its destination quicker (an hour flight on the Q400 takes one hour and 15 minutes on the ATR 72). More rapid flights mean more sectors in a day. This means the Q400 could perform an additional one hour flight every six hours over the ATR 72.

The addition of more seats in the cabin and a quick turn around time can mean a better bottom line for the airline.

Alsie Express ATR42/72
A jet black ATR 72 aircraft. Photo: Alsie Express

How much do they cost?

The ATR 72 might be cheaper to operate, but will it cost more than the Dash 8? Let’s take a look at the prices:

  • ATR 72-600: $26 million
  • Dash 8 Q400: $32 million
air-iceland-connect
Air Iceland Connect has Dash 8 aircraft in its fleet. Photo: Air Iceland Connect

The current climate

There has been a significant shift in the conditions within the aviation industry this year amid the global health crisis. Turboprop operations have been and will continue to be massively impacted with these changes. There has been a severe downturn in passenger activity this year. However, short-haul services have been more popular than long-haul flights due to the stringent travel restrictions in place.

As a result, there is a role for turboprops in the new era. For instance, this summer, Hi Air conformed that it will increase Korean regional connectivity with the purchase of two ATR 72 planes. The move highlights the resilience of the regional aviation industry, which is making a faster recovery.

HyungKwan Youn, CEO of Hi Air highlights how ATR meets his company’s needs in the present climate. Altogether, the aircraft will help the airline connect passengers across the nation.

“Selecting the ATR 72 to begin operations has been important for Hi Air’s early success. Launching an airline is hugely challenging. To be successful, new airlines need an aircraft that is efficient, reliable and offers passengers a good in-flight experience,” the executive said in a press release seen by Simple Flying.

“To be in a position already to expand our operations is because the ATR fulfills these criteria. At Hi Air, we believe that increasing regional connectivity in Korea will benefit passengers, communities and businesses and we look forward to continuing this mission with the support of ATR.”

Hi Air ATR
Airlines are continuing to place orders for ATR 72 aircraft despite the challenging conditions within the aviation industry around the world. Photo: ATR

Additionally, ATR SVP of Commercial, Fabrice Vautier highlights the role that the firm’s aircraft will continue to play. There are added benefits with turboprops for these local operations.

“Regional connectivity is more vital than ever and this is why the regional aviation segment will be resilient. In many countries, we are already seeing that domestic and regional routes are the first to return and in the case of Hi Air they continued to fly. Businesses, governments and people around the world are looking for solutions to this crisis and regional aviation has a key role to play,” Vautier added in the press release.

“Our ATR aircraft have the right blend of economics and operational versatility to support airlines. Furthermore, with their advantage in fuel burn and CO2 emissions, they are the perfect solution to help aviation emerge from this global recovery as a more sustainable industry.”

Calm Air ATR 72
Along with providing efficient solutions for regional services, turboprops also help airlines operate at hard to reach areas with harsh terrains. Photo: Calm Air

A place for both

It’s not only the ATR that is proving to be a helpful solution in the new era. There have been several deliveries of Dash 8 aircraft this year. Just this week, Biman Bangladesh Airlines received the first of three new Dash 8-400s. The company highlights that the plane’s economics and passenger environment allows the airline to offer high-frequency services within Bangladesh and neighboring nations. The turboprop combines well with the carrier’s narrowbody jets to improve its overall network efficiency and connectivity.

Most notably, the operator states that during the health crisis, it found that the role of the Dash 8 is even more essential as it sees gradual traffic recovery after lockdowns. De Havilland Canada’s regional VP of Sales, Rob Baseggio, states that the Dash 8-400 aircraft’s greater passenger and cargo capacity set it apart from its rivals and give Biman the chance to optimize its network.

Biman Dash 8
Turboprops will play an important role in the future of commercial aviation following the change of scene across the globe. Photo: De Havilland Canada

Bottom line

Above all, both aircraft provide a fantastic solution to commuter routes and should be considered by airlines. Nonetheless, different carriers have different requirements. A factor for one company may be far more important than the other.

The ATR 72 comes in at a lower price and is cheap to operate. These aspects make the plane a perfect offering for airlines looking for a simple solution. If the airline needs the extra range or has a high passenger demand, the Dash 8 Q400 may be more appropriate. Regardless, both turboprops will have an important role within airlines on the road to recovery in the airline industry.

Altogether, which aircraft do you prefer out of the ATR 72 and Dash 8? Have you flown on any of the two planes over the years? Let us know what you think of the turboprops in the comment section.

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