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The Q400: Air Zimbabwe's dream turbo-prop aircraft

04 Feb 2015 at 16:56hrs | Views
Recently, the Zimbabwean media has been agog with the encouraging story that the near-insolvent but tough survivor Air Zimbabwe, was making happy moves to procure spanking, brand-new aircrafts. (Or was it just mere talk?)

In fact, Bombardier, a leading turbo-prop aircraft manufacturer (not in the same premier league with behemoths Boeing and Airbus); have already been to Zimbabwe on a highly-visible, convincing sales pitch.

The reputable Canadian manufacturer were keen to show-off the specifications, dexterity and pleasing interior aesthetics of their much-touted Q400 Next-Gen aircraft.

VIPs, some relevant persons, including journos, subsequently enjoyed a "free" exploratory return-hop to Kariba.

Bombardier boast on their website, that the Q400 is the "most-profitable turbo-prop".

The latest variants of the Q400 (coming in the 100, 200, 300 and 400 series) range from a 37-seater to a much-bigger 90-seat configuration in the 400 series.

Bombardier also boast that the Q-series comes with updated cabins, lighting, windows, overhead bins, landing gear and reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

The Q400 claims an astonishing near-jet cruise speed of nearly 700km/h! Much more than its competitors/predecessors.

Powered by the ever-reliable Pratt and Whitney engines, its operating altitude is 25 000 ft for the standard version. With drop-down oxygen masks fitted, the maximum operating altitude rises to       27 000 ft.

The Q400 will set you back 12, 13, 17 and 27 million USD for the 100, 200, 300 and 400 series.

All these numbers appeal much for the craft!

So Air Zimbabwe should not have to pay anymore than that, unless some filthy person fiddled the invoice!

The layman passenger will quickly notice that the turbo-prop aircraft sports humongous propellers that spin just like those on the tiny general aviation aircraft.

Now, it is a fact that passengers generally dislike those huge, noisier (compared to a "regular" aircraft) propellers!.

The passenger may also perceive that generally, the "aeroplane" with propellers flies slower than the favoured "jet".

Of course, a propeller plane like the MA60 flies at a lower level than the jet.

Unfortunately, the layman passenger would never know the fantastic benefits of the "aeroplane with propellers", particularly on local and regional flights that the Q400 is most-suited for!

The fact is that, generally, at speeds of 700km/h and less, turbo-props were very efficient and economical machines, sometimes using less than half the fuel for a similar-sized "jet" aircraft.

What's more, an aircraft like the Q would safely use a tiny airport like Harare's Charles Prince airport because of its short-takeoff and landing requirements.

What African Aviator may find unpalatable is the heavy, inexpert, (mis)leading involvement of politicians on the 16th Floor of Kaguvi Building (the abode of the ministry of Transport) in the procurement of aircrafts for Air Zimbabwe.

Now, purchasing an aircraft is far-removed from the lackadaisical, walk-into-a-showrooom-and-point-an-overfed-finger-at-a-4WD! It's a sensual, intricate, well-thought-out technical process.

It may also be imperative to enlist the service of some smart-Alec consultant to come in, and give an expert opinion on the most-suitable aircraft to use, otherwise history may very-well repeat itself!

Many would remember the (possibly corrupt) decision in the 90s to acquire Fokker 50 aircraftt, which proved wholly-unsuitable for the smoking, hot temperatures of Kariba. We all know what ensued.

On many occasions, when temps climbed, the air simply became too thin to enable a safe take-off on a full load.

Baggage was inconveniently ejected from the Fokker to enable a safe take off, much to the chagrin of irate customers.

Purchasing the correct aircraft is one such task to reverse the reputational damage suffered by Air Zimbabwe; an airline which has, going all the way back to the Air Rhodesia days, enjoyed a glorious past.

It was time to recapture and grow that old magic.

African Aviator unequivocally signals the thumbs-up for Bombardier's fantastic Q400-series craft.

It must be said though that before Air Zimbabwe moved in for the Q kill, it may be worthy comparing all the critical numbers from the latest similar aircraft made by Embraer, ATR, Fokker, BAe etc.

Air Zimbabwe has to go for the very-best deal possible to extricate the airline from its quagmire.

Air Zimbabwe's three Boeing 737-200s, two 767-300ERs and two Chinese-made MA60s will not generate the leaps-and-bounds needed to knock-off Ethiopian, Kenyan, South African etc; from their perch.

As presently-constituted, Air Zimbabwe's fleet is an unfunny joke. "Dzinenge ndege dzemashanga!"

The challenge was on for Air Zimbabwe to restore the memorable days of "fast and friendly", the glorius days of, "I have seen the sun rise in Zimbabwe; I have seen the magic; I have seen the rain... I have seen the sun rise in Zimbabwe...!" Unforgettable. Magical.

Of course, procuring new aircrafts by itself will not wish away the myriad Air Zimbabwe challenges; that offending, pathetic website and poor reservations system; an unconvincing PR and communications office, near-criminal overstaffing, gross under-utilisation of equipment, a mountain of debt, etc!

For the record, since independence in 1980, Air Zimbabwe has resembled an unsatisfied, serial womaniser; going through the Viscount, British-made BAe, the Chinese-made MA60, EADS' Airbus, America's Boeing, Holland's Fokker and recently, Brazilian-manufactured Embraer.

(Hold on, what has become of Air Zimbabwe's appearing and disappearing Airbus and Embraer aircrafts; anyone with the full picture?)

God-forbid; but some clueless, politically-minded men-in-suits have previously pushed for the purchase of discredited Russian aircraft, infamously christened "flying coffins" by Poland; namely the Tupolev, Ilyushin, the Yak etc; which even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has "blasted", to quote a cliche, over-used by The Herald.

Happy landings aviators!

*Maguire ( is a trained pilot who enthusiastically scans the global aviation industry.

Source - dailynews
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