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The Ground Handling Blog

Mototok's blog for Hangar Professionals

Written by Mototok on February 26, 2019 // 2:00 PM

Turboprops vs. Jets – Pros and Cons

turboprops

Buying a private jet, whether it be for personal (business) use, corporate use, or a charter agency, is a big decision. They are a huge-ticket item and moreover, the operational expenses are very high as opposed to other equipment of comparable value (yachts/boats, construction equipment, etc.). Piston-engined aircraft are becoming rapidly more rare in these circles so the focus is on turbine aircraft which are either a turboprop or a small jet. We are taking a look at the top selling light jets and turboprops and compare notes to better equip you, the prospective buyer, with making an informed decision.

What’s the difference between turboprops and jets, exactly?

The difference is plain to see with one glance: a turboprop has a traditional propellor, whereas the jet does not. That is an obviously over-simplified look at the two.

Turboprops represent the ultimate crossover from piston to jet. A turbine engine is extremely light and produces tremendous power-to-weight as opposed to a comparable piston engine. For instance, a Piper Mirage using a Lycoming TIO-540 is rated at 350hp, whereas the identical Piper Meridian using a Pratt & Whitney PT6A is rated at 500hp. The TIO-540 weighs in at nearly 600lbs to produce 350hp to the PT6A which is under 300lbs. There are always tradeoffs and in this case it is increased fuel consumption (at 75% cruise, the TIO-540 posts 22gph to the PT6A is about double that).

Jet engines are able to propel the aircraft to considerably higher flight levels than a turboprop, up to the FL40s as opposed to the turboprop cap of around FL30. Conversely, jet engines are less efficient than a turboprop but often make up for it by being faster, hence spending less time in the air for the same destination.

Also, for the sake of this article all aircraft will be limited to single pilot certified aircraft, so high-performance turboprops and light jets. This is because there are no direct turboprop competitors to the mid-size (Beechcraft 800XP, Lear 60XR) and heavy (Gulfstream IV/V, G450/G550) private jets.

The Turboprops

Beechcraft King Air Model 90 Series

The Beech King Air is the granddaddy of corporate turbine aircraft, being the first of its type. The first conception of the King Air was the Model 120, back in 1961, which was a modification of the piston-powered Queen Air. Deliveries commenced in 1964 and they have not stopped since, with the King Air series being the most prolific light turboprop utility aircraft of all time, having outsold all rivals combined.

The Model 90 and 100 series are very similar in appearance and are considerably smaller than the -200 and -300 series “Super” King Airs which are stretched to accommodate two additional passengers, and are easily distinguished by a high T-tail empennage as opposed the Model 90s which have a standard empennage.

The bulletproof P&W PT6A powers the Model 90s, which have proven utterly reliable in all iterations. The only drawback is fuel consumption. Nobody would have predicted in the 1960s the advances in composite and aerodynamic performance which have, or the utter reliability of turbine engines which were very much in their infancy in the 1960s. Where a TBM 850 is turning a single PT6A, the King Air does provide redundancy but at a hefty price in fuel load, and fuel consumption. Modern turbine engines have proven themselves so utterly reliable and trustworthy that there has proven to be little need to have twin turbine engines just for the sake of safety.

Specs (C90GTx)

  • Seats: 8 (2 crew, 6 passengers)

  • Max cruise: 272 ktas

  • Fuel: 384 gallons

  • Useful load: 3,280lbs

  • Powerplant: 2ea. P&W PT6A rated at 550shp each.

  • Maximum range:1,260nm.

  • Sticker price: $3.8M

Pilatus PC-12

While not quite as common as the King Air Model 90s, the PC-12 has proven very popular and with around 1,500 worldwide sales since its introduction in 1994, and has been named the best selling pressurized single-engine turboprop aircraft in the world.

On first glance, it does not appear that the PC-12 should be on the same level as the King Air until you recall that there are several different power brackets on the PT6A which all utilize a similar core. The PC-12 actually ends up having more available power than the King Air as its PT6A-67P is rated to 1,200shp flat which trumps the combined 1,100shp of the King Air. What is the advantage? About $300,000 in additional overhaul cost, as well as decreased fuel costs of operating a single-engine aircraft to the twin.

The PC-12 is very popular in more remote areas of the world due to its ability to operate off of short, unimproved airstrips like a Cessna Caravan, yet cruise at much higher altitudes and airspeeds than the fixed gear aerial truck.

Specs

  • Seats: 10+1 pilot

  • Max cruise: 285ktas

  • Fuel: 402 gallons

  • Useful load: 2,257lbs

  • Powerplant: P&W PT6A-67P, rated at 1,200shp.

  • Maximum range: over 1,700nm

  • Sticker price: $4.05M

Daher TBM 930

A process of continuing evolution from an original collaborative effort between giants Mooney and SOCATA, the TBM 930 is a sleek, functional, and beautiful turbine single. The TBM is smaller than the others on this list, but it’s design focus has been on maintaining sleek lines leading to endurance and very high speed.

The TBM 930 is smaller than the other aircraft listed with six seats total (two pilots, four passengers), but it is designed to be a Formula One racer with a max cruise speed of 330ktas, putting in a similar speed and payload category some light jets with considerable fuel savings.

The TBM 930 is built to replicate much of the performance of a light jet and enjoys the environments common to jets, whereas the PC-12 was built very robust to operate in austere environments. It is just a difference in preferences, although the TBM 930 still offers a very good short field performance envelope with a minimum field length requirement of less than 2,500’ which is very respectable.   

Specs

  • Seats: six total

  • Max cruise: 330ktas

  • Fuel: 291 gallons

  • Useful load: 1,403lbs

  • Powerplant: P&W PT6A-66D, rated at 850shp.

  • Maximum range: over 1,700nm

  • Sticker price: $4.05M

The Jets

Corporate jets are iconic if nothing else at all; they are the ultimate status symbol. In yesteryear, the LearJet was the ultimate item in the arsenal of the rich and famous. While LearJet does still manufacture jets, they have very stiff competition in the form of some very successful competitors.

Cessna Citation M2

Cessna was at the forefront of the light jet movement, a category of jets which can be piloted by either one or two pilots, allowing considerable latitude in extending the range and utility of the light business jets.

The M2 is the smallest of their lineup but does not lack anything in terms of power, speed, or amenities. With a seating for seven total, two up front and five in the back, the M2 offers a maximum cruise of 404 knots, which is 74 knots faster than the TBM 930, one of the fastest turboprops on the market, and is over 130 knots faster than the King Air. When you consider this sizable increase in airspeed, the actual disparity in fuel burn is reduced a lot because the M2 spends so much less time in the air.

The M2 is a new addition to the Citation lineup so deliveries are relatively few, but that is a misnomer; they all share common lineage and the Citation brand has over 7,000 total units sold since the 1970s, securing the position of most prolific fleet of business jets in the world.

Specs

  • Seats:7 (two pilots, five passengers)

  • Max cruise: 404 ktas

  • Fuel: 492 gallons

  • Useful load: 3,810lbs

  • Powerplant: 2ea. Williams FJ44-1AP-21, rated at 1,965lbs of thrust each.

  • Maximum range: 1,550nm.

  • Sticker price: $4.7M

Embraer Phenom 100

This beauty is relatively new to the very light jet scene but has made a tremendous splash with close to 400 deliveries since deliveries commenced in December 2008.

Embraer set out with a specific game plan for the Phenom 100: radically simplify the pilot workload, and so they did by reducing the checklist items to somewhere in the ballpark of seventy less than competing aircraft. It was made from the ground up to be flown by a single pilot, rather than adapted from an aircraft designed for two pilots. Embraer adopted intuitive avionics centered around the Garmin 1000 to reduce pilot burdens.

Specs

  • Seats:8 (two pilots, six passengers)

  • Max cruise: 405 ktas

  • Fuel: 418 gallons

  • Useful load: 3,384lbs

  • Powerplant: 2ea. PW617F-E, rated at 1,695lbs of thrust each.

  • Maximum range: 1,178nm.

  • Sticker price: $4.5M

Conclusion: turboprops vs. jets

It is next to impossible to analyze appropriately turboprops versus jets in such a small and limited setting; there are so many variables in the equation. Twins versus singles, which size category, and so on. Turboprops burn less fuel but they are much slower so it ultimately evens out in the end. Jets are much more sensitive to austere and unprepared or unmaintained airfields and require considerably longer pavement for takeoffs and landings. The hourly cost of a turboprop single is $400-$500 less than a very light jet and requires about half the runway length at the tradeoff of only about 300 knots cruise. However, one huge tradeoff is altitude: turboprops are only rated for FL300 (give or take) where the very light jets routinely operate at FL410, generally above the weather rather than through it.

Hopefully this offers a glimpse at the performance envelopes, strengths and weaknesses of a handful of the most popular high performance turboprops and very light jets on the market today. Also, consider condensing the operation by purchasing a remotely operated tug so that a single pilot (the target market for these aircraft) can perform all aspects of the operation solo. Request a free consultation today!

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