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First Air’s ATR42 combi page 5

Story and photos by Raymon J. Kaduck

Although the 3M “rhino skin” tape seems to provide adequate protection, First Air continues to consider the addition of a deflector plate on the front gear. This would definitely be required on any future combi version of the larger ATR72 because the distance between the front wheels and the engines on the longer airframe might allow gravel to be kicked up into the propellers.

The small nose wheels and low profile do not seem to have hampered operations over a full cycle of seasons. “It is a good short field and gravel aircraft,” says Rofe. First Air flight manual supplements refine the manufacturer’s corrections for gravel takeoffs by recognizing hard and soft gravel surfaces. “The difference is qualitative. If the aircraft is not leaving marks, the surface is considered hard; otherwise it’s soft. If the ATR ruts the runway, the pilots should not be on it.”

Passenger comfort
Of course, the real test of a new aircraft is how customers react, and the ATR is very popular with First Air’s passengers. The company designed the combi to be functional as a cargo aircraft, but with the esthetics of a modern regional turboprop.

It has a very slight vibration in the passenger cabin at cruise, but it is less evident than in many turboprops and not uncomfortable. The ambient cabin noise level is quite low. The cabin is well insulated and overhead bins are secured to the fuselage with rubber shock mounts to deaden noise and vibration. While the company has not tested it, cruise noise levels seem lower than those in either the 727 or 737 jets that First Air uses on its long-haul routes.

The interior lighting is a vast improvement over the Hawker, which has poor reading lights that are often unserviceable. “I usually leave the cabin lights subdued,” says Flight Attendant Kate O’Connor. “The outside brightness up here is often pretty strong, so it’s less intense that way. If passengers want to read, the overhead spots at their seats are very good.

“I’d say the layout of the airplane is better. More of the food is stored in the galley area, where it is easier to get to and there is cargo space right behind the galley. The ATR’s flush lavatory is superior to the Hawker’s chemical toilet and more suitable for the 2½ to 3‑hour legs we fly.

“Pressurization and air exchange are really good.” The Hawker pressurization is manually operated from the cockpit, while the ATR has an automatic system. “Passengers are more comfortable than on the Hawker, especially the little kids,” says O’Connor. “They seem to have less trouble with their ears. And if there are fewer children crying, everyone is happier.”

In automatic mode, the pressurization system ensures that relative cabin pressure never exceeds 6 psi. The cabin altitude rate change never exceeds 550 fpm in climb. In normal descent, it will not exceed 400 fpm; in fast descent, this increases to 500 fpm. Pilots can select manual mode, if required. The air-conditioning packs are located in the left wheel fairing.

A key passenger comfort dimension is seat pitch. The distance between seat rows is a tradeoff between the number of paying passengers that can be carried and the level of comfort they experience. Seat pitch is particularly important for taller passengers, but northerners also carry more cabin baggage, including parkas and other outerwear.

In this respect, First Air’s ATR42 is among the most comfortable in the world. While the standard manufacturer’s layout is a 30-inch seat pitch, First Air uses 33 inches. The added distance between seats allows more leg room, even when baggage is stowed under a seat.

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an engineering perspective
by Raymon J. Kaduck

First Air ATR42 combi interior

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