“Even if they're very cheap, they're still hard to justify on the shorter sectors,” Magnusson says. “I think there will be more RJs being parked than replacing turboprops.” On shorter flights, turboprop fuel savings usually trump RJ operational or marketing advantages.
Magnusson also does not foresee maintenance or structural issues with turboprops reversing the retirement trend anytime soon. Actions already have been taken to extend the lives of Saab 340s and older ATR 42s and Bombardier Dash 8s, he notes.
Of the 94 turboprops retired in 2012, only seven were from the ATR 42-300 family and three were Dash 8s, the AWIN database shows. Four were Saab 340As and two were 340Bs.
As of November 2012, Magnusson says, 75% of the 156 Saab 340As that were produced remained in service at an average age of 25 years and 87% of the 201 Saab 340Bs remained in service at an average age of 21.
What could take a toll are costly new regulatory requirements. “Any new electronic upgrade that authorities feel is necessary over the next 5-10 years can kill off airplanes if it costs $100,000 to install,” he says. “It probably will be something like that that accelerates the parking of airplanes.”
The data does show one potential warning sign for turboprops. On Airfax, which lists aircraft sale and lease offerings for more than 100 marketers worldwide, the number of postings doubled over the past year to more than 50 Saab 340s and 2000s and more than 60 for ATR 42s and 72s.
Airfax Publisher Jim Williams does not believe the ATR numbers are a sign of weakness in the market, but could instead reflect airlines putting older ones up for sale as they take delivery on newer versions. “It's a robust market,” he says. “I don't see any sign it is flooded.”
The Saab increase also could be a temporary spike based on how Saab, which controls a significant portion of the fleet, is pricing them, he says.
Turboprops in general, he adds, “are still very valid for operations today. For the short sectors, nothing beats them. There is not going to be a lot of demand, but there's going to be consistent demand for them.”