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First Air’s ATR42 combi page 8

Story and photos by Raymon J. Kaduck

Future projects
It appears that First Air has found its turboprop for the future. The company must now turn its thoughts to replacing an ageing jet fleet in the next decade, a task Orr believes will present an even greater difficulty.

“After studying for many years, we recognize that travellers in the north carry a lot of freight–parkas and carry-on baggage as well as luggage. Newer types like RJs just don’t have the capacity of older 727s and 737s,” he says.

“First are the significant regulatory requirements when creating a combi. But if you decide to operate a smaller jet aircraft and split the freight and passengers, then the problem of the general size of the aircraft becomes central.

The availability of low-cost airframes following the September 11, 2001 terrorist events has increased our diligence in examining alternative types. I love the cabin of the BAe 146, like its capabilities as far as carry-on capacity, baggage and passenger comfort. It has the width and profile that lends itself to cross-functional uses. However, the fact that it is out of production and its high operating costs may preclude its selection.

“The Dornier 928, which was being designed with a large freight door and for QC [quick change] capability looked interesting. The RJX series [a successor to the BAe 146] showed the promise of reducing the operating costs for that type. Now both are gone.

“As with the 748, when taking into account all the things that are required for the north–large cabin, combi capability and gravel runways, it is difficult to find suitable replacements. We’re keeping our eyes open, but not moving aggressively.”

First Air President Bob Davis adds, “All cargo compartments greater than 200 cubic feet have to be Class C–a very stringent requirement. It forces considerable modification of an existing type. This has the tendency to hinder the development of new combi types, which are essential for the north.”

End of an era?
It is likely that, while the ATR42 wins the hearts of passengers, the HS 748 will endure for a while yet at First Air. Some of the airfields it flies into cannot be served by the ATR42. When the Hawker goes, it will probably be with a whimper. The aircraft, which only two years ago would have sold for around US$1 million, now might fetch only around $350,000, provided a buyer could be found. Since a pair of half-time engines is worth that much, there is little economic sense to selling them.

“The conversion from Hawkers to ATRs is mostly complete in the western Arctic. Additional ATRs will be purchased and deployed in the Baffin region as soon as economically possible. The current plan is to keep the Hawkers as long as it takes to run out the engines and heavy checks. We’ve already parted-out two of them, and a third will be coming off-line in 2003. Outright sale would be preferred, but with post-9/11 prices, that just isn’t realistic,” says Orr.

But not everything boils down to dollars and cents, according to President Bob Davis. “The number one reason to buy the ATR was passenger satisfaction,” he says. “And employee satisfaction. Pilots and mechanics like to be trained on something new. First Air is moving forward, not stuck with the Hawker for the rest of our lives.

“Initially, you could characterize the decision as almost four quarters for a dollar. Total economies won’t be realized until the 748 fleet is entirely eliminated. Until then, we’ll be half in, half out of each airplane, plus there is all this residual value of inventory, spares, work stands, etc. The company has to filter all that out, maximizing our value disposing of it. There will be some savings with the ATR, but we’re really doing it for our customers.” |

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