Turboprops Vs Jet Engines – What’s The Difference?

When it comes to aircraft engines, there are two choices –  a turboprop or a jet. What exactly is the difference, and which is the better engine choice for aircraft? Let’s examine.

Rolls Royce, XWB-84, Engine Wear
What is the difference between these two engine types? Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Obvious differences between the two

This topic can be as deep as an ocean, and to approach it in the simplest way possible, we will need to avoid any in-depth technical knowledge that might be beyond those without aerospace engineering degrees. That being said, the first big (and obvious) difference between the two engines is the traditional propellor.

A turboprop engine has a propeller that you would find on the first aircraft; however, the similarities to those piston engines end there. A modern turboprop engine produces incredible power to weight compared to earlier era engines, while staying exceptionally light.

Jet aircraft, on the other hand, don’t have a traditional prop but rather a fan blade inside the engine casing.

qantas fligh where passengers are weighed
A turboprop aircraft. Photo: Qantas

Speed and fuel burn

A jet engine also allows a plane to fly higher and at greater speeds, although it burns far more fuel to do so. The logic for airlines is that a jet engine can fly a plane faster between destinations, and thus the aircraft will burn around the same as a slower prop plane. On longer journies, the jet engine becomes more fuel-efficient, which added to the speed, makes the aircraft desirable.

Thus a turboprop engine is the engine of choice for smaller and light aircraft where fuel capacity and profitability is more limited. By having more efficient engines, an airline can fly a more extended range and utilize more of its fleet for destinations. Generally, aircraft under 100 seats use turboprop engines for this reason.

Conversely a jet engine is perfect for longer ranges and has more power for a bigger aircraft with more passengers.

Alsie Express
A turboprop aircraft is perfect for regional travel. Photo: Alsie Express

Other advantages

There are some other inherent advantages of each engine that don’t quite fit into the above.

For one, turboprop engines allow an aircraft to take off quicker and land on shorter, non-asphalt runways. This means that regional airports that might not even have a concrete runway (especially in developing areas of the world), are perfectly safe to land on with a turboprop.

There are also some lower costs associated with turbo prop engines. In addition to fuel, the aircraft have lower charter, insurance, and maintenance costs thanks to more reliable engines and fewer moving parts.

Jet engines also have some advantages, such as quieter operation. This makes them perfect for city airports that have residences nearby (Porter Airways, who exclusively flies turboprops has long pushed for a jet replacement fleet on the basis that they are quieter).

The bottom line is that turboprop aircraft is perfect for shorter regional routes, while the jet engine is for long haul flights with larger aircraft. Some research has been done on engines that marry both advantages together, but none has yet reached the market.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.