Transport Canada has certified Bombardier's 90-seat Q400 configuration, clearing the way for deliveries to launch customer SpiceJet starting later this year, and the manufacturer said more orders are on the way.
Indian LCC SpiceJet last year signed on to be the 90-seat Q400’s launch customer as part of a 25-aircraft firm order, and all of them are slated to be in the new configuration. The Gurgaon, India-based LCC operates 22 Q400s in 78-seat configurations.
SpiceJet is the only 90-seat Q400 customer, but Bombardier said “several airlines” are interested in it. “We expect to see more orders for this type soon,” it added.
Launched in February 2016, the 90-seat option, which cuts seat-mile costs about 15% compared to a 78-seat version, is one of a series of improvements Bombardier is making to broaden the Q400’s appeal. Other notable changes include a 2,000-lb. payload increase that is in progress, and expanding A and C check maintenance intervals from 600 to 800 hours and 6,000 to 8,000 hours, respectively. The A check change was approved earlier this year, while Bombardier expects the C check adjustment to be in place by year-end.
Bombardier is betting on the improvements to help lure more orders. Executives also point to a shift in how Q400s are being deployed as a positive development that could entice new customers to sign up.
Many operators viewed the Q400 as a typical turboprop—too slow and small to truly integrate with mainline flying, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP & head of marketing Patrick Baudis explained. But airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and Calgary-based WestJet Airlines are leveraging the aircraft’s speed—its 360-kt maximum cruise speed is about 25% faster than the ATR 72—to work the Q400 into mainline schedules. The carriers are able to swap the aircraft on routes that cannot support mainline narrowbodies, or benefit from having more frequency instead of higher-capacity aircraft.
“There’s been a change in the Q400 marketplace in the last few years,” Baudis told reporters during a May event at Bombardier’s Mirabel International Airport facility in suburban Montreal. “Airlines were operating turboprops in isolation mode, which doesn’t take advantage of the Q400’s capabilities. Now, some are fully integrating the Q400 operations into a jet operation. That changes the dynamic.”