Reflecting on EASA’s March 1 rule allowing operators to provide commercial single-engine turboprop (SET) operations in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), those attending the SETOps2017 conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Friday pondered whether single-engine turboprops will stimulate a new era of growth for business aviation in Europe; or if it's just hype. While activity has increased sharply from a low base so far this year, it remains to be seen whether widespread SET operations will evolve in Europe. However, one thing the conference did agree on is that new business models offered by the likes of Wheels Up and Surf Air will help to stimulate the market.
Opening this year’s event, conference chair James Dillon-Godfray, business development director at London Oxford Airport, said, “We had to wait 20 years for EASA to sanction the use of single-engine turboprops in IMC. We’re way behind the curve here in Europe.” He noted that some operators, such as Hendell Aviation, had already started commercial SET operations before the rule, using exemptions. He also noted that turboprop singles would be able to operate to “three times [as many] airports” as current turboprop twins, “potentially adding 1,000 new routes [across Europe].”
Small airfields, especially those that offer GPS/LPV 200 approaches “equivalent to CAT I,” represent "one of the keys," Dillon-Godfray said. Among the provisions in the new SET rule are a requirement for pilots to have 100 hours of pilot-in-command experience in IMC for single-pilot operations, in-depth engine trend monitoring and strict flight-planning requirements, such as having “safe landing sites within 15 minutes' gliding time all along a route.” Currently, he noted, three models have been approved for SET-IMC: the TBM 900 series, Cessna Caravan and Pilatus PC-12, but it’s likely that the Quest Kodiak and in-development Cessna Denali will be added in the not-too-distant future.
Richard Koe of WingX noted that, while SET activity is “growing fast,” so far only 7 percent is commercial/AOC, while the rest is private. The total turboprop single fleet currently numbers approximately 330 aircraft in Europe—the PC-12 being most active and fast-growing, with flights up 92 percent compared with the same point last year. Overall the number of commercial SET flights has increased by 72 percent from a year ago, he added.
Adam Twidell, founder and CEO of online broker PrivateFly, is predicting that “customers will be predominantly new customers to business aviation,” but warned about non-AOC aircraft doing “gray” (i.e. illegal) charter flight, undercutting legitimate commercial operations.
A “trailblazers” session featured speakers from Hendell Aviation, Voldirect and Jet Fly, which are already conducting commercial SET operations in Europe. Frederic Caussarieu, president of French operator Voldirect, said, “We were the first SET operator in Europe…now people realize that turboprops can be fast, efficient—with less carbon dioxide emissions—so it is the future. Customers also realize we can use shorter airstrips, which get them closer to their destination. [SETs also offer] more value for money.”
Mikael Lees, CEO of Hendell Aviation, said, “Right now recruitment is an issue as [SETs/SET operators] are not the most glamorous aircraft...for pilots.” He added that it is “also a challenge to find pilots with the right experience” and that “there are no approved simulators available in Europe.”