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First Air’s ATR42 combi page 6

Story and photos by Raymon J. Kaduck

Because the bulkhead in First Air’s design is structural, there are a limited number of locations where it can be firmly attached to the airframe. “Of the possible combi configurations, it turns out that only in one do you lose a seat row if a 33-inch pitch is maintained instead of 30 inches,” explains Mechanical Designer Phil Lee. “It makes a huge difference to passenger comfort. When looked at that way, it’s a no-brainer.”

Esthetically, the ATR42 cabin is quite impressive. There is no evidence of its multiple roles. “That was a key requirement from the start,” Lee says. “We didn’t allow any compromises. It had to look as good as any passenger cabin–no Velcro covers all over the place covering gaps in the liner. Essentially, this is identical to a passenger cabin on any other ATR, except it is shorter.”

The pilots control cabin temperature from the cockpit; however, the flight attendant has direct control over the heat in the passenger door area and the rear passenger seats. The door has a heavy curtain that can be drawn while the passenger door remains open for safety, allowing passengers to stay on board at short station stops, even in the Arctic winter.

“Passenger comfort is dramatically better,” says Orr. “The aircraft is warm, there’s a higher pressurization differential, so they experience less discomfort during climb and descent. It’s quiet, faster and a more pleasant experience.

“If there’s a negative, it has to do with flexibility, and I don’t consider that to be a correctable item. We will have to deal with it in the way we market the aircraft. Really, it’s no less flexible an aircraft than types that have no reconfiguration capacity. Our option would have been to select a smaller type and just run passengers, but it would have ended up costing them more.”

The business end
First Air pilots enjoy the ATR42, but it’s a little like comparing apples and oranges. The HS 748 is an older aircraft that is largely a manual operation. “The 748 is designed to be hand-flown,” explains First Officer Patrick Seeley. “The ATR is not pleasant to hand fly, but it will do anything you want.”

“After the Hawkers, these things are a real treat, especially on autopilot,” says Captain James Johnston. He jokes that he tries to keep his hand flying to an absolute minimum, and has particular praise for the braking system: “Actual braking performance is incredible. You don’t have to worry; the anti-skid is great. Everything in the ATR is electronic and failsafe.”

The ATR42 has a digital automatic flight control system (AFCS) designed by Honeywell. The avionics, electrics and batteries are rack-mounted behind the pilot positions. First Air has fitted the aircraft with Collins nav/com and a King 950 HF radio with SELCAL capability. The cockpit is a clear improvement. This extends from modern avionics to simpler things, such as overhead lights that are fluorescent, rather than incandescent, and provide a whiter light.

While all four aircraft are converted and in operation, the Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) is still a work in progress: “We bought the aircraft knowing that changes would have to be made to the compasses,” explains Orr. “This has been challenging due to the integrated nature of modern avionics.”

First Air conducts most of its operations in areas where proximity to the North Pole makes magnetic compasses unreliable. “The AH600 fitted to the ATR42 and the Dash 8 is not suitable for high latitude operations,” Orr says. “At present, the aircraft are flying with an interim solution utilizing two additional gyro systems and some additional switching. It is not a safety issue, but a reliability issue. Four directional gyros are being carried instead of two. A modern system is what’s needed, such as the Honeywell AH900 or SAGEM F227 laser gyro.”

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