If your company is trying to economize on your travel budget and you have been chartering a turbo prop or jet aircraft, consider a cabin class piston twin instead.
Many times, companies require company personnel to use turbine powered equipment. The reason is the statistical increase in safety of this class of airplane. Turbine powered airplanes use either a jet or turbo prop engine. the difference between a “pure” jet and a turbo prop is how the motive force of the engine is produced. In a jet, the hot gases exiting the tail pipe push the airplane through the air, in a turbo prop, the hot exhaust gases spin turbine that is connected to a gear box and propeller.
In a piston powerd airplane, the engine is an air cooled version of the engine in your car, the motive force comes from the turning propeller. So the main differeance between a turbo prop aircraft and a piston powered airplane is the actual engine that is turning the propeller.
Turbine engine airplanes have a higher reliability rate and a higher power to weight ratio. This means most turbine engine powered airplanes will climb better with one engine inoperative than will a piston powered airplane. This is where the statistically improved safety of turbines comes from. But let’s look at that safety record. Most turbine powered airplanes are piloted by professional full time crews who undergo recurrent training, usually in a simulator. By contrast, piston powered twins are flown by both a large number of professionals and also private pilots. In addition, not all private pilots go through the high quality training of the professionals even though they are flying the same type of airplane. When the statistics are calculated, the safety record of the entire fleet is considered and you would expect the safety records of the piston twin aircraft flown by private individuals to be lower, this would lower the safety record of ALL piston twins.
Here at American Business Airways, we believe there is a lot a company can do to increase the level of safety to our customers flying in light twins. Some of the methods we use are the same as those used to fly turbine powered equipment. Although all jets and most turbo props can continue a takeoff if an engine fails just before lift off, most piston powered twins cannot. Here at American Business Airways, we allow more runway in order to stop should an engine fail at lift off, this is called an ” accelerate stop distance” and it is not required by the FAA to be calculated for small twins either turbo prop or piston powered. All large aircraft and all jets must calculate the accelerate stop distance and also the distance to continue the take off in the event of engine failure.
To mitigate the concerne that the piston twin can not take off and climb on one engine until the gear is up, we require our pilots to have a runway that exceeds the accelerate stop distance, thus giving them the oppourtunity to bring the airplane to a safe stop in the event of an engine failure, we also require them to retract the gear as soon as possible on takeoff, once there is no longer enough runway left to land on, so the airplane will be able to climb should an engine fail. The time when the airplane may not climb is reduced to 1 or 2 seconds after takeoff.
Ok, so we can stop on takeoff if need be, and we can climb on 1 engine after the gear is up, how do we ensure safety even for those few seconds when the airplane is in the air but the gear is still retracting? The short answer is maintenance. At American Business Airways, we perform oil analysis on each engine. Oil analysis looks at the oil for wear metals that indicate a problem might be developing in the engine that warrants investigating. In this way we can find problems before they cause a failure. Additionally, we use trend monitoring. During cruise, our pilots record all engine and airframe parameters and engine readings, these are reviewed by the maintenance department for any changes from normal readings. Again, this will allow us to catch problems when they are still small.
Now to the other aspect of why turbine airplanes may be viewed as safer than piston airplanes, training and procedures. There are no full motion simulators for piston powered twin airplanes, but there are several training centers that use visual simulators that replicate the cockpit and systems of the acutal aircraft, just like the full motion simulators do. At ABA we integrate simulators into our training program. Since the simulators are not full motion, the FAA will not approve them for our flight training instead of using the actual airplane, so we use them in addition to actual inflight training. With the simulators (we use both a personal computer based simulator with generic airplanes, and actual aircraft simulators) we can perform maneuvers and train for failures that would either be dangerous or impossible in the real airplane. We believe our pilots recieve a better training program by using the simulators in addition to training in the real airplane and the insurance company agrees, as they give us a discount on our premiums!
So in summary, If you travel by aircraft charter and need to do so with a smaller budget, consider chartering a cabin class light twin, but ask some question first. Just like the operators flying turbine equipment, there is a wide range of professionalism between operators, but at the Piston twin level, the differences are more important.
When considering a piston twin, ask the following:
Do you use simulators or PC flight training devices in your training program?
Do you have minimum airplane performance requirements? such as ” accelerate stop” distance calculations, minimum single engine climb rates?
Do you have procedures in place for minimum landing distances (ABA uses large aircraft minimums)?
For pilots new to the airplane do you require higher weather minimums (also borrowed from jet operators by ABA)?
Do you use engine oil analysis and engine trend monitoring programs?
Do you fly IFR or VFR? (ABA files an IFR flight plan for all passenger flights regardless of the weather, ensuring we always have Air Traffic control monitoring our flight)?