Technological advancements continue to make regional aircraft lot more efficient, faster and comfortable
The world’s first regional jet transport aircraft is said to be the Yakovlev Yak-40, a small, three-engine airliner from Antonov. It was introduced in September 1968 with Aeroflot. By the time production ended in November 1981, the factory at Saratov had rolled out 1,011 aircraft and by 1993, Yak-40s operated by Aeroflot had carried 354 million passengers. The maximum cruising speed of the Yak-40 was 550 kmph and economical cruising speed was 470 kmph. Its range with maximum of 32 passengers was 1,450 km and with maximum fuel it went up to 1,800 km.
The passenger cabin had a standard layout seating 24 to 27 passengers three-abreast and in a four-abreast seating it went up to 32. Passengers entered and left the aircraft via a set of ventral air stairs in the rear fuselage. The Yak-40 was the first jet powered airliner in its class in service in large numbers anywhere in the world, preceding the ERJ-135 and 328 JET by three decades. The Yak-40 programme was intended to operate regional services that accounted for 50 per cent of Aeroflot’s passenger traffic. The Caravelle was one of the most successful European firstgeneration jetliners. The Caravelle 12 (Super Caravelle) was the last version to appear, the most advanced of them all which first flew on March 12, 1971. The Series 12 had a noticeably longer fuselage and carried up to 140 passengers.
The Fokker F-27 Friendship was a turboprop airliner designed and built by the defunct Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker. It had a seating capacity of 48 to 56 passengers. The Fokker F-27 had a range of 2,600 km and a cruising speed of 460 kmph. And from the Brazilian stable, there was the Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante, a general purpose 15 to 21 passenger twin-turboprop light transport aircraft with a cruise speed of 341 kmph and a range of 1,965 km. Further development of the EMB-110 was halted as Embraer shifted focus on the larger and faster EMB-120 Brasilia.
Between 1950s and the early 1970s, there was considerable development in regional jet manufacturing. The jet numbers were limited then as they could not compete in terms of cost of operation with the turboprop designs. As engine technology improved, this difference continued to narrow, until the higher utilisation factors due to higher cruising speeds erased any remaining advantage from lower operating costs.
In 1978, when the US deregulated the airline industry and introduced route liberalisation, the market for mini-airliners surfaced. Similar trends can be seen in China and India, both being geographically vast countries and in the process of route liberalisation. In the US, it changed the way people travelled. The short-to-medium haul flights ran a different model, including that of dispensing with cabin crew and toilets. They were called ‘puddle jumpers’.
Due to growing markets for feeder routes, airlines and aircraft manufacturers rapidly replaced these “puddle jumpers” with larger amenity-equipped, turboprop “mini airliners,” and later by faster and long-range, first-generation turbofan powered regional jets.
Speed, Comfort and Efficiency
Technological advancements continue to make regional aircraft lot more efficient, faster and comfortable. As airlines become more and more customer-centric, original equipment manufacturers OEMs are tailoring their products to ensure that passengers reach destinations faster and comfortably, while for the airline, it means enhanced efficiency and better operating performance.
Passenger Comfort — the Embraer Way
The Brazilian aerospace major has revolutionised passenger comfort through its seating configuration. Embraer has knocked off the ‘middle seat’ and passengers just love the E-Jets for that. Passengers are seated either by the window or the aisle. E-Jets are built with the lowest possible aircraft operating empty weight in order to carry the highest revenue-generating payload. Since fuel consumption is proportional to aircraft weight, a lighter airplane translates directly into cost savings that go right to the bottom line.
The Embraer E-Jet family is a series of narrow-body mediumrange twin-engine jet airliners. Launched at the Paris Air Show in 1999 and entering production in 2002, the aircraft series has been a commercial success. The aircraft is used by both mainline and regional airlines around the world. The smaller E-170 and E-175 make up the base model aircraft. The E-190 and E-195 are stretched versions, with different engines and larger wing, horizontal stabiliser and landing gear structures. The 170 and 175 share 95 per cent commonality, as do the 190 and 195. The two families share near 89 per cent commonality. All E-Jets use four-abreast seating and have a “double-bubble” design, which Embraer developed for its commercial passenger jets, that provides stand-up headroom. The E195 advanced range version can carry a full load of passengers up to 4,448 km. The maximum operating speed is Mach 0.82 or 890 kmph.
In November 2011, Embraer announced that it would develop revamped versions of the E-Jets family with improved engines, rather than an all-new aircraft. The new variants are to be powered by new more efficient engines with larger diameter fans and include slightly taller landing gear etc. The new E-Jet variants are to be better-positioned to compete with the Bombardier CSeries. Embraer has named it ‘second generation’ and the new variants are to enter service in 2018.
Bombardier Next-Gen Aircraft are Racy
Bombardier’s family of commercial offerings such as the CSeries, CRJ NextGen and the Q-400 NextGen aircraft are transforming regional aviation and the way one travels.
CSeries: Building on Bombardier Aerospace’s tradition of innovation, the CSeries family of aircraft is optimised for the long range, singleaisle, 100- to 149-seat market and delivers the lowest operating cost in its class. CSeries aircraft deliver 20 per cent fuel burn advantage, exceptional operational flexibility, wide body comfort and an unmatched environmental scorecard. They are the quietest inproduction commercial aircraft in the world making the CS-100 aircraft an ideal solution for city centre airport operations.The maximum cruise speed is 0.82 Mach or 871 kmph and the normal cruise speed is 0.78 Mach or 829 kmph.
Q-400 NextGen: Designed for short-haul routes, the 70- to 80-seat Q-400 NextGen aircraft is a fast, quiet, fuel-efficient turboprop that delivers a perfect balance of passenger comfort and operating economics with a reduced environmental footprint. The Q-400 NextGen is one of the quietest aircraft flying today, inside and out. Thanks to Active Noise and Vibration Suppression (AnvS), its enhanced cabin is exceptionally bright, comfortable and quiet. On the outside, the aircraft is 15 dB quieter than ICAO Stage 4 noise standards, a level that has raised the bar for the entire industry.The Q-400 NextGen aircraft provides the perfect balance of passenger comfort and operating economics with a reduced environmental footprint. Its maximum cruise speed is 667 kmph and long-range cruise speed is 532 kmph.
CRJ-700 NextGen: Backed by popular demand, the 70-seat CRJ-700 NextGen aircraft is optimised for medium-haul regional routes. The CRJ NextGen family of aircraft combines the lowest operating cost in its class with proven reliability, enhanced cabin comfort, fleet commonality and reduced environmental impact. With 70 passengers, the aircraft has a range of 2,256 km while the extended range is up to 2,785 km. The maximum cruise speed is 0.825 Mach or 876 kmph and the normal cruise speed is 829 kmph.
ATR Dominates the Turboprop Market
ATR has become the benchmark for regional turboprop aircraft with sales exceeding 1,200 to over 180 operators in more than 90 countries. These have accumulated a total of around 19 million cycles. Today, ATR is a pioneer in the regional transport field. The unparalleled success of the ATR range can be attributed to the combination of outstanding features in terms of innovation, comfort and environment-friendliness. The latest generation of ATR turboprop aircraft with state-of-the-art technology opens up new horizons to regional airlines worldwide by offering optimum performance, perfect reliability, exceptional passenger comfort, easy maintenance and high economic efficiency. The ATR products include the ATR-600 series, the ATR-72-500 and the ATR-42-500.
ATR-72-500: The ATR-72-500 draws from the in-service experience of more than 700 of these machines operatng worldwide, with a proven average dispatch reliability of more than 99 per cent. The ATR-72-500 fully meets the customer requirements in a rapidly evolving market and is playing a major role in the growth of regional carriers. It offers the lowest seat-mile costs in its class. The ATR-72-500 is powered by PW-127F engines and provides outstanding short field performance for an aircraft of this size, even on difficult hot and high airfields. The operational weights comply with the new regulations increasing the standard passenger weight and provide the ATR-72-500 with a maximum range of 890 nm or an out and return trip of 420 nm without refuelling, both being at full passenger payload.
SSJ-100 Making Headway
The Sukhoi Superjet (SSJ) 100 is a fly-by-wire regional jet with seat capacity of up to 108. With development starting in 2000, the airliner was designed by the civil aircraft division of the Russian aerospace company Sukhoi in cooperation with its main partner Boeing. Its maiden flight was in 2008 and its first passenger flight in April 2011.The SSJ-100 is the first airliner in which engine and airframe have been designed together to optimise performance. The SSJ-100 – a fusion of Russia’s famed aviation design and production skills with the latest systems from leading aerospace suppliers around the world – offers standards of economy, performance, environmental efficiency and passenger comfort never before seen in a 100-seat airliner. The maximum speed is 0.81 Mach and the basic SSJ-100 has a range of 3,048 km.
MRJ Next on the Horizon
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is the next-generation regional jet which will offer both top-class operational economy and outstanding cabin comfort. By featuring a game-changing engine, state-of-the-art aerodynamic design and noise analysis technology, the MRJ will significantly cut fuel consumption, noise and emissions. The MRJ will have a four-abreast seat configuration, with large overhead bins and also feature a slim seat that offers heightened comfort to passengers.
The aircraft has seating capacity of 70 to 90 passengers. Its maiden flight is scheduled for 2015 and first delivery in 2017. The range is up to 3,310 km and the normal speed is 0.72 Mach or 828 kmph and the maximum speed is 0.82 is 906 kmph.
The quest for improvement and innovation continues in the aviation industry to fulfil the needs and aspirations of passengers, airline business viability, profitability and environmental concerns.