British regional airline Flybe was a name synonymous with the Dash 8. While the carrier flirted with Embraer jets and had some specialist aircraft for specific missions, its fleet was largely made up of the Canadian turboprop. How did the airline’s collapse impact the operation of Dash 8s in Europe?
Over the years, Flybe operated a total of 92 of the Dash 8 aircraft. These spanned the family, with the -200, -300 and -400 flying for the carrier. By far the largest representative, however, was the Dash 8-400, of which 79 passed through Flybe’s fleet.
At the point of its collapse, Flybe had already begun scaling back somewhat. It had streamlined its fleet to a total of 54 Dash 8-400s, alongside its 14 Embraer jets. While a somewhat smaller fleet than it once held, this still represented more than 10% of the global Dash-8 fleet at the time.
With the largest operator of this aircraft type flying to a swift stop in early 2020, how has this impacted the likelihood of getting on one in European airspace now? Let’s take a look.
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Capacity never came back
When Flybe revealed it would fly no more, overnight between the 4th and 5th March 2020, the impact of the pandemic was already beginning to take its toll on UK airlines. While the UK didn’t go into its first proper lockdown until March 16th, things had already begun to slow down a little.
This means that, when we look at the number of Dash 8 flights in Europe around that time, the data is somewhat skewed by the impending travel shutdown. Nevertheless, there was an instant impact that can be seen in the chart below. From averaging around 800 – 900 flights per day, the Dash 8 was seen only operating between 500 – 600 flights per day after March 5th.
Of course, the first British lockdown, which came around the same time as most other European nations locked their citizens down, saw Dash 8 movements plummet. From late March until early June, flights hovered around the 100 – 150 per day mark, until things began to pick up again.
By summer 2020, most airlines were at least attempting to fly something of a normal schedule. Some had ticked up to 60% or more of their summer 2019 schedule, but the Dash 8 did not. Even at the peak of its usage in summer 2020, the Dash 8 remained under 500 flights per day, some 40% of its activity seen in the peak autumn break period of 2019.
Impacts on the Dash 8-400 in Europe going forward
Flybe wasn’t the only airline to leave De Haviland’s flagship turboprop in a difficult position last year. While the grounding of such a large fleet undoubtedly flooded the market with cheap aircraft for lease and purchase, it was not the only carrier to add to the parked fleet of turboprops.
The second major operator of the type in Europe was Austrian Airlines. Its 18 Dash 8-400s were slated to be replaced by Airbus A320s by 2021. At the end of 2020, 11 had already left the fleet and plans were in place for the exit of the other eight.
German carrier Luftfahrtgesellschaft Walter (LGW) was Europe’s third-largest Dash 8-400 operator, going into 2020 with 20 of the type. It already had plans in place to replace these with E-jets in late 2021. However, in April 2020, the wet lease airline wound up its business, passing the Dash 8s to key client Lufthansa. All remain parked or stored.
The fourth-largest operator of the Dash 8-400 at the time was airBaltic. Its 12 8-400s were destined for phase-out by 2023, as the airline moved to become an all-Airbus A220 operator. However, the effects of the pandemic brought forward this timeline, and the Dash had left the fleet before the summer.
Between these five airlines, 58% of the European Dash 8-400 fleet is represented. Although a handful of other airlines operate a small fleet of the type, the departure of these significant numbers of aircraft presents a problem for De Havilland. With so many second-hand (and sometimes quite young) aircraft on the market, why would a prospective operator place a direct order with DHC? Costs aside, the wait factor for a freshly made aircraft makes the parked fleet a very attractive proposition.
DHC knows this, and has always said it will not produce white-tail aircraft (planes with no buyers). As such, following rumors in January of a production pause, DHC confirmed this week that the Dash 8-400 production line will fall silent for an unspecified period. While the manufacturer remains positive about the future of the program, who knows how long it will be before new orders start to flow into Canada.