Pilatus has delivered 1,300 units of its popular turboprop, and the worldwide fleet has surpassed five-million flight hours. Rod Simpson considers the ongoing appeal of the PC-12…
For decades, turboprop business aircraft customers have really only had one choice with Beechcraft’s twin-engined King Airs commanding the market. The safety factor of two engines was always an important consideration, but that’s now being challenged by single-engined turboprops; notably the Swiss-manufactured Pilatus PC-12.
The PC-12 has the significant advantage of lower costs of operation, while attitudes to single engines are changing. For example, it’s now widely accepted that turboprop engines - notably the PT6A powerplants - are so reliable that aircraft such as the PC-12 are viable alternatives to the King Airs.
Reliability & Economy
Pilatus Aircraft, based at Stans, 45 kilometres south of Zurich, is long established and famous for its military trainers and the STOL-capable PC-6 Porter. The PC-12, which first flew in 1991, was designed for a unique market niche, appealing to business users by offering the cabin size of a King Air 200 with single-engined economy. Yet the PC-12 appeals to many other classes of operator with its large, rear cargo door and rugged undercarriage to allow landings on unprepared strips.
The PC-12 has a convenient airstair door ahead of the wing and the interior has a flat floor, facilitating cargo carrying or easy loading of aeromedical equipment. Because of this flexibility, the PC-12 is in worldwide service with organizations such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Mission Aviation Fellowship.
The first PC-12 was delivered to American customer Carlston Leasing Corporation in 1994, then the 1,000th example was completed in 2010. Most recently, the 1,300th unit was handed over to California-based, Surf Air in February.
Surf Air has pioneered the concept of the private travel club, operating in California and providing its subscribing members with a network of 44 flights a day taking in eight destinations in the San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles areas. This unique offering gives Surf Air’s members unlimited travel for a fixed monthly subscription and Surf Air says its business model works, thanks to the reliability and economy of the PC-12NG.
Building on Success
Although today’s PC-12NG is externally the same as the original 1994 model, Pilatus has made several changes during the past 20 years. There have been increases in maximum takeoff weight and the Next Generation PC-12NG, introduced in 2008, brought a more powerful PT6A engine and saw the cockpit upgraded with a fully-integrated Honeywell Primus Apex avionics package.
Further enhancements to the avionics followed, including optional enhanced vision and the Smartview synthetic vision system.
Last year the aircraft was given electrically-operated landing gear, the wireless Connected Flight Deck system and six new choices for the cabin interior, designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA.
The flexibility of the PC-12 is what appeals to many Business Aviation users. “We regularly transport a jazz band around the country,” explained one Florida-based operator, “and the PC-12 is ideal with the four comfortable cabin seats occupied by the band and all their equipment safely loaded through the rear door.”
The PC-12 also operates scheduled services with many companies such as Alaska-based Iliamna Air Taxi which uses its two aircraft to provide mail, freight and passenger service to six destinations including Anchorage, Port Alsworth and Kokhanok.
In New England, meanwhile, Tradewind Aviation has nine PC-12s, flying ‘Premium Scheduled Service’ out of White Plains to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Tailwind also has aircraft based in the Caribbean, operating out of San Juan, Puerto Rico to Anguilla, Antigua, Nevis and St. Barths.
Corporate fleet operators have added PC-12s into their mixed fleets, particularly to serve company locations which have nearby light aircraft strips which suit the PC-12’s short field and off-airport capabilities.
The aircraft is also very popular with private pilot owners who use it as a flying station wagon, capable of carrying large loads.
Typical of these owners is David Fountain, a businessman based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who has upgraded through no less than three PC-12s. “There is no other aircraft in the world like the PC-12,” he notes. “The size, speed, range and the Swiss quality of the aircraft are exceptional, and it’s a joy to fly."
The PC-12 is to be joined by the twin-jet PC-24 which will be faster, but as a first-of-its-kind will retain the cargo facilities and unprepared field ability once it enters service. Through its PC-12 model, however, Pilatus has truly created a niche for itself, and we anticipate the PC-12NG will remain in production for many years to come.
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