- 08 Jun 2021
- AvBuyer Africa Articles
Private air travel in Africa remains an exclusive, yet, significantly growing industry within the continent. There is a particularly niche market for these huge-ticket items, with buyers not only having to consider the initial cost of the aircraft , but the operational and maintenance costs too.Back to Articles
Turboprops receive the nod for being the most versatile, and popular forms of private air travel in the world, with the Beechcraft King Air gracing the top of the list in popularity. That being said, the turboprop market, post 2020 has certainly become one of the most exciting market segments with the amount of innovation, new entrants and upgrades being introduced.
Piston-engined aircraft are becoming more rare globally, with focus shifting to turbine aircraft like turboprops and jets. Africa itself trails behind the rest of the world significantly in private aircraft ownership, falling behind the Middle East in ownership numbers. The US, on the other hand, dominates turboprop ownership by over 55% of total global registrations.With this in mind, we created a complete guide to the buying and selling of turboprops in Africa. We unpack why they are popular, what functions they have, and how companies go about managing and maintaining them.
Why Are Turboprops So Popular?
So, why would a buyer be more inclined to pick a turboprop over a jet? Apart from the screamingly obvious fact that they are more affordable to operate and maintain, they are perfect for short to mid-range flights that will need to land in remote regions and areas. We broke down the qualities of a turboprop and what advantages they hold over a jet in more detail.
It Is Efficient and Cost-Effective for Short Distance Flights
One of the clear benefits of a turboprop is that it is significantly more cost effective than a jet. With developments in technology and upgrades permanently being made to the aircraft, the latest turboprops to hit the market are becoming more fuel efficient than ever.
The heightened fuel efficiency is mostly due to the fact that the engine is more lightweight than that of its jet counterparts. This means that you can expect better performance from the aircraft during takeoff as well as when you are in the cruise. Overall, it will run more efficiently and provide a higher power output per unit of weight than a jet, with lower altitude flying (below 25,000 feet) being ideal for optimum fuel efficiency. Turboprops have the added benefit of adding extra airflow over the wing, behind the prop and increasing its lift, increasing the fuel efficiency even more.
High-performance, single-engine turboprops are even more economical, slashing the costs of pilots, especially for pilot-owners who will not need to bring on the cost of a pilot at all. The Pilatus PC12, in particular, is very popular in this category.
The Ability to Handle A Variety of Airfields
This is of particular use when flying into and around the African continent and for clients and businesses requiring access to remote areas. The turboprop is built to land on various runways, whether they are tarred or not. In comparison to jets that need at least 5,000 feet of runway to land, a turboprop can land on a strip as short as 3,200 feet.
Whereas jets need to avoid grass landing strips, turboprops are able to comfortably land in a field or grassy plain, making access to hard-to-reach regions achievable with a turboprop.
Lower Overall Day-to-Day Costs
Compared to its jet counterparts, the overall cost of running and managing a turboprop is a lot lower. Firstly, insuring a turboprop is more affordable than a jet, due to the fact that there are fewer moving parts in a turboprop. This also reflects in less regular maintenance and operational costs.
Because it burns less fuel than a jet, the hourly operating cost is significantly lower than that of a jet. So, whether chartering or owning, the day-to-day running of the aircraft is more affordable. Chartering can therefore be significantly lower on shorter distance trips when travelling than with a jet. On average, a turboprop costs $400 to $500 per trip less to run than a light jet.
Things to Keep In Mind
With this in mind, it is important to keep various other aspects in mind when it comes to a turboprop. They do have a lower cruising speed than a jet, with an average of 300 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS). So, this will most likely make your flight time a bit longer, which if you are doing a long-distance flight, might make Turboprop travel unfeasible.
They have a shorter range than a jet and are not designed for long- range missions. They are better suited to short and mid-ranged flights of around 1,000 to 1,300 miles. This is around 1,600 to just over 2,000kms.
Lastly, they have a lower cruising altitude than a jet. With an altitude ceiling of 25,000 to 35,000 feet, it will be more difficult to avoid turbulence, storms and icing, which could lead to a bumpy flight.
What They Are Used For?
Turboprops are popularly used for business and corporate travel, with clients choosing to make use of the convenience and efficiency of a chartered service over commercial airlines. A trip on a commercial airliner from King Shaka to Lanseria can take an average of three hours, which includes the airport queues, boarind, delays and general waiting time.
Chartered aircraft can slash this time in half. Despite the time difference between the King Air and Boeing being minimal, the Boeing will spend more time in the climb getting to 35000ft and cruise for only a few minutes before descending. The King Air climbs to 25000ft and then has a longer cruise segment. It is a versatile, smart and cost-efficient choice for business travel, especially when flying into remote regions.
Experts nod at the Beechcraft King Air B200 for being the most desirable corporate turboprop option. With the ideal combination of passenger comfort, cruise speed, range and short runway capability, it is hard to beat the King Air for VIP travel. The cabin is roomy and comfortable and the aircraft can cruise at 280 knots under most conditions with its IFR range stretching to around 1,700 nm. These can be owner flown, but most do fly with one to two professional pilots depending on the operation and insurance requirements.
Apart from private chartered flights, turboprops are extensively used for air ambulance, medical and evacuation services. Beechcraft, in particular, has built more air ambulances than any other manufacturer. Not only are they easily fitted with specialized equipment, but their low operating costs make them an ideal choice. This, coupled with the fact that the aircraft can land and takeoff on shorter, non-concrete runways, makes them an ideal pick for remote emergency assistance and evacuations.
Other notable users and owners of turboprops are global military forces, navies and as mentioned, emergency services. The Royal Flying Doctors in Australia are particularly known for their affinity to the Beechcraft King Air.
Maintaining a Turboprop
Maintenance of a turboprop is vastly different from that of a jet, and this is simply due to the difference in engine. The difference in the engines comes in during the turbine stages. Instead of the heated exhaust gas directly creating thrust, as in the case of a jet, turboprops use the gas to turn the turbine stages which drive a very fast rotating spool.
This will then turn a large propeller which pushes air behind the aircraft at an accelerated speed. Although it might not seem like it, this means that there are a lot less working parts for a turboprop, which in turn lowers the cost of maintenance, but increases the frequency of overhauls compared to jets.
Turboprop engines have to usually undergo hot-section inspections (HSIs) at various intervals. These could be either a predetermined number of hours or flight cycles. Time Before Overhauls (TBO’s) can range anything between 3,000 hours to 6,000 hours, depending on the model. But mid-term inspections are critical with the aircraft typically undergoing an HSI. Total overhauls usually cost in the range of $100k-$300k for the overhaul, depending on the model, and work needed.
Turboprops in 2021 and Beyond
Globally, the turboprop market is expected to grow at around 2.5% over the next five years. North America dominates the global market, while Asia is one of the fastest growing markets. Africa is currently on par with the Middle East in both market size and growth potential.
2019 saw Africa hit record growth in the aviation industry with an increase of more than 4% in overall total seating capacity and low-cost carriers recording a growth of more than 13%. Although COVID-19 stagnated the growth somewhat in 2020, it is forecasted that there will be a need for more than 3000 aircraft by 2037, with Africa making up over 10% of the overall need. Countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana are currently modernizing their national carriers which will have a knock-on effect for the need for turboprops.
Currently, Africa’s turboprop growth is forecasted at around 1.5.% for the next five years. But, this is expected to start increasing thereafter. Because of the high profitability of short distance and low altitude flying, and due to the number of regional routes opening up across Africa, experts are forecasting steady growth in the industry.
Nic Dorfling from Money Aviation weighed in on the matter. "As the pandemic continues to affect the current aviation market, a growth has been noted in the movement of Turboprop aircraft not just in the world but in Southern Africa as well. The requirement for travel, now more than ever, has fallen onto the private sector's shoulder, and the aircraft that is able to do it is a Turboprop. Turboprops in the current market offer competitive pricing, and with the current upgrade in avionics technology, and performance additions turboprops are becoming safer and more sought-after aircraft. Turboprop aircraft are here to stay.”
Traditionally, the demand for turboprops is generally higher in emerging economies that are enhancing their regional network and linking smaller cities to each other. Increased investment in the general and commercial African aviation industry is driving growth across the region. The development of smaller airports and airstrips, together with the increase in short haul routes to cater for increased demand will add a push to the increase for turboprops.
Secondly, due to the great fluctuations in fuel prices, especially in Africa, turboprops make for economical short-distance travel solutions. This, together with the fact that turboprops are more compliant to reduced emissions regulations, drives the turboprop industry forward for sustainability.
Lastly, a rise in military spending across the region is significantly accelerating the market. A rise in demand for trainer and military transport aircraft is drastically increasing the demand for models such as the Pilatus PC-12, Beechcraft T-6, Lockheed Martin C-130J, etc.