"What people don't understand is that a big airplane doesn't mean more benefits because in many cases to fill a big plane, the carriers have to charge lower and lower fares," said George Hamlin, independent aviation consultant in Virginia.
But with the proliferation of 50-seat regional jets, airports like La Guardia International Airport in New York "have turned into a mess" with congestion, he said.
The Q400 seems to answer the question by allowing more passengers per takeoff but not forcing airlines to bet economics on filling jets three or four times a day.
Until now, the only U.S. customer for the Q400 has been Horizon Airlines, the regional carrier for Alaskan Airlines. It has 21 Q400s in its fleet with 12 more on order.
Last fall, Frontier Airlines ordered 10 for delivery starting this year and continuing into 2008.
"The Q400 has proven to be an effective tool that has enabled Horizon Air to restore profitability, even in the low-fare arena," Horizon president and chief executive Jeff Pinneo says on Bombardier's Web site.
Horizon this year was named Regional Airline of the Year by Air Transport World, partly for introducing the Q400 to the U.S. market.
What it's also done, Hamlin said, is prove that U.S. customers don't go out of their way to avoid prop planes.
"The old adage is that people don't like seeing the propulsion; they want it hidden in the engine."
While Horizon has made the plane profitable, he cautions that turbos are still typically flown on noncompetitive routes.
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