Qantas’ Canberra Run

I was disappointed and perplexed that an excellent service run by Regional Express (REX) between Melbourne and Canberra was discontinued a few years ago. The tickets were a fair bit cheaper than the competition – and you just had to sit in a turbo prop for an extra half hour or so reading away quietly.

Oddly, the planes weren’t very full, so perhaps it was discontinued from lack of demand rather than because of predatory pricing from the majors. In any event, Qantas has been running turbo props on the same route for a long time. Then I read the story below the fold on Crikey! and I might start asking if they’re jets – or go with my preferred carrier – Virgin Blue.

Qantas sinks $1.5 billion into crash-prone turbo props
Ben Sandilands writes:

Pay more attention than usual to the safety announcement if you still get to fly on the long thin Q400 turbo props operated by Qantaslink to Canberra or on many regional routes.

The biggest operator of the type Scandinavian Air Systems (SAS) has just permanently discontinued using the Canadian built aircraft after a third undercarriage collapse occurred over the weekend, following two similar crashes in September.

It is the first time since BOAC grounded the early Comets in 1954, in much more tragic circumstances, that an airliner has been ejected from an airlines fleet on safety grounds.

Qantaslink has seven 72 seat Q400s in service, mostly out of Canberra. Two more are (or were) due in service soon.

It recently poured scorn on Virgin Blues choice of the wider, faster Embraer E-jets for such routes when it slapped down $400 million for a further 12 of the turbo-props plus options for an additional 24, which would take its bet on the Canadian planes made by Bombardier to around $1.5 billion if all of them were delivered.

In September the cause of the SAS crashes was found to be a faulty undercarriage design fortunately different from the one used in the older smaller Dash 8 turbo props also made by Bombardier and widely used down the years by Qantas.

However, the statements and assurances made by Bombardier and BF Goodrich the Q400 main gear maker and the safety authorities that approved remedial work and a resumption of services briefly suspended in September are now void as far as SAS is concerned.

The Qantas Q400s are much younger and consequently less at risk from the second rate design of the turbo prop than early adopters like SAS.

But to say Qantas will face issues with its choice of prop jets is an understatement. Disintegration on landing is a bad look. It is dangerous. It has “future litigation” in neon lights blinking right above it. And compared to an E-jet, which the Virgins call a “Capital Jet”, a Q400 is a stuffy, slow tube crammed with absurdly small seats flying at low speed and low altitudes that maximise turbulence and discomfort.

Somehow, it seems reasonable to anticipate a sharp U-turn away from Q400s in Qantas fleet planning in the not too distant future.

Click on the image to go to the video which is quite spectacular.

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Robert Merkel
16 years ago

Nick, whether the Q400 is “second rate” or not, what gives me the screaming willies about that post is that the clear implication is that it has anything to do with the engines on the wings.

There’s nothing whatsoever inherent with turboprops that makes them more vulnerable to a landing gear failure.

Over short hauls like Melbourne-Canberra, the difference in speed between a Q400 and a jet is probably less than the half-hour you mention; the Q400 is a fair bit faster than older turboprops.

The other thing I used to like about flying short-haul in a turboprop was that the view out the window was a lot better than in a jet because they flew at a lower altitude :)

David Rubie
David Rubie
16 years ago

I’m not a big fan of the Dash 8 – they use the smaller version on the Sydney-Armidale run and occasionally you’ll get one that feels like it’s vibrating to pieces (like the old joke about the plane that was 200,000 parts flying in close formation). If you get really unlucky, you’ll find yourself on one with a shocking hangover, flying into a metric butt-load of turbulence. That’s 90 minutes of eye-rolling discomfort.

Yes, the seats are also kinda small (not an issue for me so much, but you do get the odd XL passenger on there impinging on personal space). I liked the old Fokker Friendships better, although I was only a kid when I went on one and this recollection may be coloured by how exciting plane travel seems to a 10 year old, especially when said Fokker is lining up the red-dirt runway at Inverell.

derrida derider
derrida derider
16 years ago

There’s a reason competitors flying to and from Canberra can’t beat Qantas despite being a lot cheaper on the Sydney and Melbourne runs; Qantas has most of the Departments locked into contracts. In turn Departments agree to those contracts because Qantas has a monoply on most of the places other than Melbourne and Sydney that you’d want to go from Canberra.

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
16 years ago

“I cant see anything about the engines on the wings. Where does it imply that”

It’s the Crikey story at fault, not your post. The message the story seems to put across at a quick glance is that props are unsafe, when really this a problem with the Q400’s undercarriage, not the fact it’s a propeller plane.

Crikey use the undercarriage problem to bitch about props in general (“a stuffy, slow tube crammed with absurdly small seats flying at low speed and low altitudes that maximise turbulence and discomfort”). They’re being deceitful, and unfair to other prop manufacturers who have (I assume) safer undercarriages.