UK regional carrier Flybe has achieved fuel savings of 13% on its fleet of 46 Bombardier Q400 turboprops since it instituted higher efficiency operations in mid-2009.
Prior to that, says managing director Andrew Strong, speaking at a Farnborugh air show briefing speed had been the main consideration for the airline. "It's probably true five years ago that we were operating [the Q400s] at maximum velocity in order to get the frequency out of the schedule that the Q400 offers over other turboprops."
Initially it adopted "a fairly crude approach" to cutting its annual £80 million fuel bill by simply slowing down. However, procedures were formalised in June 2010 and the company began working with UK air navigation provider NATS to optimise aircraft routing, including climb and descent profiles.
In addition, flight crew have been issued with an Apple iPad-based system that uses projected maintenance costs to calculate the optimum speed of a service while in the air "to the nearest minute, on any sector on any day".
As the system is only used on sectors of less than one hour, services run only a few minutes behind schedule. However, thanks to the slower cruise speed fuel savings are substantial, says Strong, cutting fuel use on a typical 45min flight by around 250kg.
Q400 fuel burn is now comparable with ATR types, says Bombardier, while offering larger capacity for both passengers and luggage.
Flybe has been working with Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney Canada, which supplies the PW150 engines on the type, to further optimise its operations.
Richard Dussault, vice-president, marketing at P&WC, adds: "The benefit on the engine is that it doesn't work as hard on those segments so you get a double-digit benefit on the maintenance programme as well."
Although it has plans for a next-generation powerplant in the 2017-18 timeframe, "we think there's a lot of life that still exists in the current turboprop," adds Dussault.
For its part, Bombardier is working on a number of performance tweaks for the Q400. It will introduce required navigation performance (RNP) capability on the type with Canadian operator WestJet when it begins to take delivery of its ordered aircraft next year. A retrofit for the system will be available in second half of 2013.