Oh The Horror: TurboProps in Fairbanks

Alaska Airlines is being excoriated by Alaska residents primarily in Fairbanks for switching their flights between their fair city and Anchorage over to Bombardier Q400 turboprops.   No more jet service.

I have a few words for Fairbanks residents:  Alaska Airlines just did you a big favor.

Fairbanks is likely to get more frequency on flight segments where it will take absolutely no longer to fly the segment.  The Q400 is made for such service and it can provide it reliably and, most importantly, at lower cost than the 737.

Flight durations won’t change.  Dispatch reliability won’t change.  Frequencies will go up.  How is that bad?

Fairbanks will retain jet service to Seattle and Portland, Oregon and it will keep jet service on one 747-400 Combi flight between Fairbanks and Anchorage.

There appears to be a perception that these aircraft are dramatically noisier than the 737.  They are not.  There is also a perception that they cannot climb very high.  They can climb quite high.  Each aircraft can climb as high as one would ordinarily want to climb on a flight segment that short.

There is a perception that the Q400 isn’t good in mountain turbulence.  Those in Fairbanks should observe that all the flights between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington are in the Q400 directly over mountain ranges.

There is a perception that weather will be a real issue for passengers.  Possibly for a small number.  Possibly and depending on whether or not Alaska Airlines makes accomodations for its passengers (I think they’ll handle special circumstances just fine.)   Let me also point out that the climates in both Anchorage and Fairbanks aren’t exactly North Pole-like.   It can get very cold there during storms and winter months.  About the same as what is seen in International Falls, Minnesota where they fly turboprops in and out of all year round.

There is a perception that turboprops are more prone to icing.  They are not.  The altitudes in which icing occur are altitudes that both the 737 and the Q400 spend about the same amount of time in.  Both have anti-icing features and they work well.

And I want to point out one more thing:  Fairbanks city population is 31,000 people.  The entire metropolitan area is 97,500 people.  Waco, TX has 125,000 city population and 235,000 metropolitan population.  Waco doesn’t get 737 aircraft either.  In fact, Fairbanks is roughly equivalent to Sherman, TX in population sizes and Sherman, TX doesn’t even get commercial air service.  Take a minute to go lookup Sherman, TX and we’ll wait until you’re done.

Anchorage – Fairbanks sees about 11 flights a day in aircraft ranging in size from a small 30 seat turboprop to a large 737-400 with 144 seats.  ERA Aviation is flying the same class of turboprop between the two cities multiple times per day with zero problems.

So, basically, there is no problem here.  Just pride over issues that don’t exist.


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