Qantaslink Dash 8: Could This Quirky Aircraft Gain A Place In Permanent Roster

If demand remains low, quite possibly.

As we reported on Tuesday, Qantas has started running a turboprop on flights from Sydney to Melbourne.

Whilst symbolic of some truly devastating times, the change could also hold an uplifting (pun intended) silver lining.

How? Even though it’s not the most practical form of Sydney to Melbourne transport, passengers appear to be developing a newfound appreciation for it.

How did that happen? Well, thanks to the last month’s flight cuts, last weekend, on Saturday, April the 11th, Virgin Australia had no flights and Qantas had a single service down to Melbourne – the turboprop.

This has now changed as the news came through yesterday that the government would fund an increase in both Qantas and Virgin Australia’s domestic networks over the following months. But that’s not the point. The point is, Qantas, for however brief a time, used a turboprop on a non-regional route.

What’s a turboprop? A turboprop is an aircraft driven by a turbine engine, smaller than a jet, and more fuel-efficient for shorter journeys.

Big news not just for plane spotters. Why? After last Saturday’s turboprop (a 74 seat QantasLink Q400, otherwise known as the ‘Dash 8,’ if we’re being precise), flew to Melbourne via Canberra, the appreciation for the ‘it really feels like you’re flying’ experience began rolling in.

Geoff Power, a cattle and vegetable grower in Western Australia, took to Twitter to herald the decision, and suggest it become a permanent addition to the roster.

Seeing this, DMARGE got on the phone with frequent flyer and owner of Flight Hacks, Immanuel Debeer, who said: “I’d take a turbo prop over a 737 any day. I think most people would too because seating is more spacious, there are less passengers (which equals less waiting around) and they make you feel like you’re flying.”

The only negative? “Downside is that they are very noisy.”

Another downside we can see is that last Saturday’s turboprop journey was slower than a typical jet (the typical flight time on a 737 from Sydney to Melbourne is an hour and a half, and the flight time on last Saturday’s turboprop, which flew to Melbourne via Canberra, was almost three hours). Though the stopover in Canberra may account for much of that.

Despite this, the appreciation for what we thought was a fairly antiquated technology was backed up by comments under our reporting of Qantas’ decision to temporarily use the turbo-prop (which is usually dedicated to short hops like Rockhampton to Brisbane) for the Sydney to Melbourne route.

“Don’t be so disdainful of turboprops, and the Dash-8/Q400 in particular. There are a few of us who love them,” one wrote.

Of course, there was a healthy dose of realism splashed in, too: “Turboprops hardly common? There are hundreds and hundreds of Dash 8’s and ATR42/72’s around the world,” one commenter wrote, “plus a few Brasilians, F50s, and the like. Rex wouldn’t be around were it not for the Saab 340.”

“Personally I’ll take a jet anytime as these smaller props can get very bumpy… but most Aussie regional routes cannot afford small regional jets like the E170 so expect to see turboprops around well into the future.”

Another wrote: “It may not be ideal, but at least it’s practical for the short term. Considering a Dash 8 400 costs only about $3-$4k + an hr give or take to run, compared to about $12-14k+ an hr give or take for a 737, the Dash wins no argument. Won’t in the race for speed or distance, but does for efficiency!”

“Given the choice between a seat on a q400, or no seat because it isn’t economical to fly a 737 I think most will take the Dash,” a third wrote.

“I like the Dash which is fine for short hauls & better suited to regional areas that don’t have huge RPT numbers,” wrote a fourth commenter, summing things up nicely: “[the] 737 is far better suited to the Syd/Mel run etc, only because passenger numbers warrant it. But obviously now due to a huge change in circumstances running a 737/757/A320/330 etc is no longer viable at least at the moment.”

In other words: unless the pandemic situation keeps demand low for another year, it’s unlikely we’ll see the Dash 8 permanently assigned to the Sydney to Melbourne route. But that won’t stop those that love it dreaming of its installation. As a fifth and final commenter wrote under the aforementioned article: “I’ve particularly enjoyed my flights in Qantas Link Q400s.”

While another user retorted, “Doubt you’d be so chipper about it if you had to fly them a dozen times a month,” our Dash-loving commenter’s final comment hints at a creative solution (or at least a novelty stunt) Qantas could, in our opinion, employ, to great social (if not financial) success: run the Dash 8 alongside its typical Melbourne to Sydney jet operations, once normality resumes.

“The… real advantage is being able to slip past all the jets lined up on a Friday afternoon at Sydney and zoom off leaving them in our wake.”

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