Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 on proving flight in Juneau, Alaska - Photo: AirlineReporter.com

Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 on proving flight in Juneau, Alaska – Photo: AirlineReporter.com

Alaska Airlines (AS), through their wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon Air, recently announced that they would deploy some of their Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 aircraft to the State of Alaska.  While Dash-8’s have long been a fixture in Alaska Airlines’ pacific northwest network via Horizon (I was flying them within Washington as a child), this marks their first major deployment up north.

Why would AS begin flying Q400s in Alaska?  For the same reasons other carriers have moved towards regional jets and turbo props – operating costs, frequency, and flexibility.  On the operating cost side, Q400s are extremely efficient, particularly compared to the Boeing 737-400s that are a mainstay of the AS fleet in Alaska.  Bombardier estimates savings in examples like this to approach 40%.  From a frequency and flexibility standpoint, more flights on a smaller plane can meet passenger demands, maximizing load factor while increasing service frequency, to the benefit of passengers.

Alaska Q400 painted in Washington Huskies livery (alma mater of @bnickeson and @ardpb) - Photo: Alaska Airlines

Alaska Q400 in Washington Huskies livery (alma mater of @bnickeson and @ardpb) – Photo: Alaska Airlines

In the case of the Anchorage to Fairbanks route, AS is increasing frequency to nine flights per day (from seven), but significantly reducing  available seats.  Currently, the seven daily flights are on Boeing 737-400s, seating 144 passengers.  That’s 1,008 available seats per day.  The new schedule provides eight daily flights on the Q400 (at 76 all-coach seats) and one remaining flight on the 734, for a total of 752 seats (a capacity reduction of 25%).  This also all but eliminates the first class cabin on this route.  That being said, you have to assume that this will significantly boost the Alaska load factor on these routes, increasing profitability.

Alaska Airlines is one the largest operators of the Q400 (they also like to decorate theirs in local sports liveries; see above).  The Q400 is the latest, enhanced version of the Dash-8.  The program dates back nearly 30 years, but now offers a technologically advanced airliner with similar safety features to mainline jets.  Originally offered by de Havilland Canada, Bombardier acquired the company after a particularly-messy ownership change.  The Dash-8, now offered only in its largest Q400 variant, has been an extremely successful program, delivering over 1,000 airframes.

While Alaska residents may be upset about losing mainline jet service, the Q400 is still a capable and comfortable aircraft.  Seating is arranged in a 2-2 setup (meaning no middle seats) and Bombardier utilizes noise-cancelling technology on the “Q” models to reduce the drone from the turboprop engines.  While seat width remains the same as the 737-400, pitch is reduced by an inch.  This shouldn’t matter much on the routes these planes are being used on; Anchorage (ANC) to Fairbanks (FAI) is less than a one-hour flight.

Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 landing in its namesake state - Photo: AirlineReporter.com

Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 landing in its namesake state – Photo: AirlineReporter.com

I recently flew on a Q400 (a United Express version) for a flight much longer than ANC-FAI, and found it to be no less comfortable than a comparable regional jet.  Actually, my discomfort on the flight had nothing to do with the equipment choice, and everything to do with the clientele.  I was flying from a “less than cosmopolitan” (to be polite) destination back to Denver, and the announcement was made that electronics would be permitted after 10,000 feet.  The woman in front of me, in heavy country twang, yelled out, “you mean we’re goin’ higher than 10,000 feet?!?”  I had to bite my tongue; it was an interesting flight.

While regular Alaska Airlines Q400 service doesn’t begin in Alaska until March, proving flights have already taken place.  Obviously, Alaska Airlines is hoping to convince its namesake-state clientele that just because it is a smaller plane doesn’t mean it is a lesser experience.  I, for one, would love to fly on a “Horizon” Dash-8 again, mainly for nostalgic sake from my youth.

MANAGING EDITOR - DENVER, CO. Due to his family being split on opposite sides of the country, Blaine traveled frequently as a child, falling in love with the flying experience, and has continued to travel ever since. For AirlineReporter, Blaine edits all content before publishing, assists in story and concept development, and takes every chance he gets to produce original content for the site. When Blaine’s not busy planning his next travel adventure, he spends his time working as a college administrator. If he can’t be on an airplane, he’d prefer to be on a bicycle or playing with his two toddlers with his wife. Email: [email protected].

Why Can’t Airlines Just Add Extra Room?
6 Comments

I think that this is a powerful good idea — especially given the remoteness of Alaska. I think that once they can get people past the perception that turboprops are “old, dangerous technology” and that jets are the only way to fly, they will end up giving some of the communities much better air service.

This will also prove to be valuable by allowing the use of Q400s to run between smaller communities, aggregating passengers for larger aircraft uplifts to major Alaska and CONUS destinations.

I fly on the Q400 quite a bit from GEG to SEA and it is OK (less than 1 hour) BUT Alaska has much longer segments that they use for that aircraft. How about 2 hours from SJC to BOI! Not so much fun.

Have flown on Horizon Q400’s from BOI to LAX and back a number of times. It was a much more pleasant experience than my experiences on older Atlantic Southeast ATR 72’s (probably -200), but there was still a noticeable drone. OTOH, I flew on a Jet Airways ATR 72-500 in India, and my perception was that it was even quieter than a Q400. YMMV, I suppose.

For those of us from FAI and ANC commuting between both – the biggest backlash was that instead of boarding through jetway in Aloha shirt ready to rumble on to Hawaii, everyone now must walk outside at 40 below zero – unload coats in a limited overhead bin, and freeze while they get some heat in cabin. I’ve heard AS is working on a mini-jetway or something, but if they offer (like Horizon) free beer + wine and snacks, that problem soon forgotten :).

Blaine Nickeson

When I last flew a UA Q400 (OKC-DEN) we boarded via a regular jet bridge.

Frank Colleado

From the second biggest city in Alaska i don’t think they have any idea what kind of load that comes in and out of Fairbanks. They want to start this new operation during the busiest month of the year. We have alot of things going on in the month of March in the city of Fairbanks. Lets start with Spring Break, Hockey Tournaments and this year Fairbanks is sponsoring the Artic Olympic Games. Can anyone see what is about to happen to the passengers, bags and cargo? This would just be the beginning of a rough and hard operation for our customers and employees because i truely believe that it will not accomandate any of our flight loads on a dailey basis especially doing the summer and fall seasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *