A turboprop aircraft has a turbine engine that drives an aircraft propeller. Recently, the private jet market has seen an upsurge of on-demand and jet card charter flight activity for turboprops. Activity in this sector has increased 8% compared to 4.9% for light jets. According to TRAQpak turboprops registered 1.18 million flight hours, behind midsize cabin jets and more than light and large jets. Also, TRAQpak reports that turboprops made up 27% of business flight hours last year. The reasons for the popularity of turboprops are mainly price and access.
According to Kenny Dichter, founder of Wheels Up, a private aviation company, “From 2001 through 2010 when I was CEO of Marquis Jet Partners (before selling the company to NetJets) it became very clear to me from my view of the marketplace there was a latent demand for a winner take most player in the turboprop space.“
Ditcher says that an estimated 80% of all private flights in the US are under two hours. These short flights are ideal for the King Air 350i turboprop, which he says is like a flying SUV.
StraightLine Private Air founder Tom Filippini says, “There is absolutely growing consumer interest in turboprops and piston solutions. Consumers realize that for shorter regional trips, there isn’t much benefit to using a jet. Not only are the turboprops less expensive for these missions, but they frequently offer better payload, more comfortable cabins and can access significantly more airports.”
According to Planemasters, a 1,041-mile flight from Kansas City to Phoenix in a light jet takes two hours and 35 minutes compared to three hours and 40 minutes on a turboprop. A 303-mile flight from Phoenix to San Diego takes 54 minutes in a light jet compared to 70 minutes on a turboprop. Given that StraightLine’s members pay an average of $3,189 per hour in a turboprop compared to $4,702 per hour in a light jet, the savings on a turboprop are significant, especially for companies or executives that fly often. For example, PrivateFly saved a customer $47,000 by leasing a Beechcraft 1900 turboprop to fly 20 passengers on a turboprop, rather than two large jets.
PrivateFly CEO Adam Twidell, a former Royal Air Force, and private jet pilot says turboprops are more popular for shorter flights because the price comparison isn’t between a turboprop and a light jet, but midsize, super midsize or even a large jet. A recent client scheduled a private jet flight on a turboprop for twenty people from Las Vegas to a remote mining facility for $13,000. The alternative would have been two larger jets at a cost of $60,000.
“It’s not just price. It’s where you can fly. In many cases the King Air 350i can get you closer to where you want to go because it can access smaller airports that eight-passenger jets cannot, which ultimately saves time,” says Dichter.
Filippini notes that “The maximum takeoff weight in a turboprops is typically greater than that of a light jet, allowing more room for specialized equipment such as skis, golf clubs, or hunting gear. Turboprops are also fit to land in less-than-ideal conditions such as dirt or grass runways. Therefore, if an emergency landing were to be required, a turboprops has more options.”
In terms of comfort and space, Tidwell says the King Air or PC-12 feels no different than a jet once you are inside. Adding that “Once they experience the King Air, PC-12 or some of the other modern turboprops, customers are always astonished about how quiet, smooth and comfortable they are.”
Ditcher agrees, “There is even a fully enclosed lavatory, something some smaller jets don’t always have.”
And in terms of safety, Filippini says, “There is no empirical evidence to suggest that jet aircraft are safer than turboprops. In fact, it is argued by many pilots that they feel safer flying turboprops because their slower speed allows for more reaction time if an emergency where to transpire…. The biggest concerns we address with our member involve dual pilot versus single pilot and dual engine turboprops versus single-engine turboprops. Most turboprops are certified to fly with one pilot, however, we crew most of our flights with two unless the member requests otherwise.”