When it comes to the delivery of a new aircraft, large, widebody jets usually have no issue getting from the factory to the customer airline anywhere in the world. But what about delivering regional jets and turboprop aircraft to far-away customers? How does that work? Let’s find out…
There are airlines all around the world that have turboprop aircraft in their fleets. These aircraft can only fly regional services, usually connecting smaller communities – either to each other or to larger urban centers.
However, there are really only a handful of commercial turboprop aircraft being made around the world, for example, the Dash 8, and the ATR 42 and 72. The Dash 8 is manufactured in Canada while ATR planes are assembled in France.
With a range of only 825 nautical miles, an ATR 72-600 would struggle to get from its factory in Toulouse, France, to a customer in Delhi, India, for example. Therefore, some expert planning is required to get from point A to point B.
Minimizing weight is the first step to increasing the range of the aircraft. There are several ways to do this.
Firstly, when aircraft like these are delivered, there are no passengers on board. The absence of 60 to 70 passengers – as well as their baggage – can make a huge difference to the range of the plane. Additionally, as the seats themselves can be weighty additions, they are often shipped to the destination separately rather than installed at the factory.
Therefore, without seats, passengers, or passenger baggage, the range of the turboprop is increased, often by a couple of hundred nautical miles or so.
It is also reported that extra fuel tanks can be installed to further increase the range of the plane. According to the Robb Report, depending on the size of the aircraft, it can range from a custom-made metal tank to a simple bladder made of rubber, placed on an empty seat.
With no passengers and potentially no seats onboard, there is certainly the potential to have fuel tanks installed in the cabin or in the aircraft’s cargo hold.
Hop, hop, hop
The final strategy for getting a short-distance aircraft through a long-distance journey is by making multiple stops along the way. For example, a flight over the Atlantic Ocean may include stops in Canada, Greenland, and Iceland along the route. For transpacific journies, fuel stops can be made in Alaska and Russia.
Even with suitable airports along the way, some routes require extra careful calculations due to the distance to the next suitable airport. Winds and weather must be taken into account and the flight can only be taken when these conditions are favorable.
Several websites mention the need to prepare for the worst – especially when flying over oceans. This means including additional survival gear and life rafts as part of the journey. Another source even says: “[I packed] a number of red shirts so folk could readily spot me—or my body—from the air. It’s the kind of mortality issue one’s forced to address.”
From the sounds of it, embarking on a long-haul ferry flight in a turboprop aircraft is akin to an endurance challenge, one that requires careful planning and the ability to entertain oneself for long stretches of time.