The Q400: Air Zim's dream turbo-prop aircraft

HARARE - Recently, the Zimbabwean media has been agog with the encouraging story that the near-insolvent but tough survivor Air Zimbabwe, was making happy moves to procure spanking, brand-new aircrafts. (Or was it just mere talk?)

In fact, Bombardier, a leading turbo-prop aircraft manufacturer (not in the same premier league with behemoths Boeing and Airbus); have already been to Zimbabwe on a highly-visible, convincing sales pitch.

The reputable Canadian manufacturer were keen to show-off the specifications, dexterity and pleasing interior aesthetics of their much-touted Q400 Next-Gen aircraft.

VIPs, some relevant persons, including journos, subsequently enjoyed a “free” exploratory return-hop to Kariba.

Bombardier boast on their website, that the Q400 is the “most-profitable turbo-prop”.

The latest variants of the Q400 (coming in the 100, 200, 300 and 400 series) range from a 37-seater to a much-bigger 90-seat configuration in the 400 series.

Bombardier also boast that the Q-series comes with updated cabins, lighting, windows, overhead bins, landing gear and reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

The Q400 claims an astonishing near-jet cruise speed of nearly 700km/h! Much more than its competitors/predecessors.

Powered by the ever-reliable Pratt and Whitney engines, its operating altitude is 25 000 ft for the standard version. With drop-down oxygen masks fitted, the maximum operating altitude rises to       27 000 ft.

The Q400 will set you back 12, 13, 17 and 27 million USD for the 100, 200, 300 and 400 series.

All these numbers appeal much for the craft!

So Air Zimbabwe should not have to pay anymore than that, unless some filthy person fiddled the invoice!

The layman passenger will quickly notice that the turbo-prop aircraft sports humongous propellers that spin just like those on the tiny general aviation aircraft.

Now, it is a fact that passengers generally dislike those huge, noisier (compared to a “regular” aircraft) propellers!.

The passenger may also perceive that generally, the “aeroplane” with propellers flies slower than the favoured “jet”.

Of course, a propeller plane like the MA60 flies at a lower level than the jet.

Unfortunately, the layman passenger would never know the fantastic benefits of the “aeroplane with propellers”, particularly on local and regional flights that the Q400 is most-suited for!

The fact is that, generally, at speeds of 700km/h and less, turbo-props were very efficient and economical machines, sometimes using less than half the fuel for a similar-sized “jet” aircraft.

What’s more, an aircraft like the Q would safely use a tiny airport like Harare’s Charles Prince airport because of its short-takeoff and landing requirements.

What African Aviator may find unpalatable is the heavy, inexpert, (mis)leading involvement of politicians on the 16th Floor of Kaguvi Building (the abode of the ministry of Transport) in the procurement of aircrafts for Air Zimbabwe.

Now, purchasing an aircraft is far-removed from the lackadaisical, walk-into-a-showrooom-and-point-an-overfed-finger-at-a-4WD! It’s a sensual, intricate, well-thought-out technical process.

It may also be imperative to enlist the service of some smart-Alec consultant to come in, and give an expert opinion on the most-suitable aircraft to use, otherwise history may very-well repeat itself!

Many would remember the (possibly corrupt) decision in the 90s to acquire Fokker 50 aircraftt, which proved wholly-unsuitable for the smoking, hot temperatures of Kariba. We all know what ensued.

On many occasions, when temps climbed, the air simply became too thin to enable a safe take-off on a full load.

Baggage was inconveniently ejected from the Fokker to enable a safe take off, much to the chagrin of irate customers.

Purchasing the correct aircraft is one such task to reverse the reputational damage suffered by Air Zimbabwe; an airline which has, going all the way back to the Air Rhodesia days, enjoyed a glorious past.

It was time to recapture and grow that old magic.

African Aviator unequivocally signals the thumbs-up for Bombardier’s fantastic Q400-series craft.

It must be said though that before Air Zimbabwe moved in for the Q kill, it may be worthy comparing all the critical numbers from the latest similar aircraft made by Embraer, ATR, Fokker, BAe etc.

Air Zimbabwe has to go for the very-best deal possible to extricate the airline from its quagmire.

Air Zimbabwe’s three Boeing 737-200s, two 767-300ERs and two Chinese-made MA60s will not generate the leaps-and-bounds needed to knock-off Ethiopian, Kenyan, South African etc; from their perch.

As presently-constituted, Air Zimbabwe’s fleet is an unfunny joke. “Dzinenge ndege dzemashanga!”

The challenge was on for Air Zimbabwe to restore the memorable days of “fast and friendly”, the glorius days of, “I have seen the sun rise in Zimbabwe; I have seen the magic; I have seen the rain... I have seen the sun rise in Zimbabwe...!” Unforgettable. Magical.

Of course, procuring new aircrafts by itself will not wish away the myriad Air Zimbabwe challenges; that offending, pathetic website and poor reservations system; an unconvincing PR and communications office, near-criminal overstaffing, gross under-utilisation of equipment, a mountain of debt, etc!

For the record, since independence in 1980, Air Zimbabwe has resembled an unsatisfied, serial womaniser; going through the Viscount, British-made BAe, the Chinese-made MA60, EADS’ Airbus, America’s Boeing, Holland’s Fokker and recently, Brazilian-manufactured Embraer.

(Hold on, what has become of Air Zimbabwe’s appearing and disappearing Airbus and Embraer aircrafts; anyone with the full picture?)

God-forbid; but some clueless, politically-minded men-in-suits have previously pushed for the purchase of discredited Russian aircraft, infamously christened “flying coffins” by Poland; namely the Tupolev, Ilyushin, the Yak etc; which even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has “blasted”, to quote a cliche, over-used by The Herald.

Happy landings aviators!

*Maguire ( is a trained pilot who enthusiastically scans the global aviation industry.


    Comments (3)

    Maguire, i dont think yo cause has done any justice to the debate on airzim.I was left wondering ,are yu a salesperson for Bombadier or not. Air zim is run by thick heads.adding too many variables would not help the situation. Airzim must learn to do the small things right.To begin with, airlines are run on a profit per mile.this should be the basis of air zim thinking, from which all things can then fall into place. Despite the huge potential of airzim, nobody is prepared to give them assets on credit.Airzim's routes have so much potential, such that-i can afford to walk into any manufacturer's premises and sweettalk them to lease me any aircraft of my choice without paying any downpayment.No body would deny any opportunity to invest in a business that makes so much sense. Yo dont need to be big in the airline industry to be profitable. singapore airlines, southwest are making huge returns -which put those asset heavy airlines at shame. Now that air zim-is in such deepshit, acquiring newplanes wont solve anything.They must learn to do right with those old planes.Who is exactly-airzim's customers.once they can identify this segment,its behaviours-then they can deploy resources to perfectly and efficiently services them without any disruptions.To even claim that the president regurlaly snatches planes for trips abroad-is just an must just be considered as one of the risks in business and if properly planned for its impact can be minimised.

    Mbudziyadhura - 5 February 2015

    Mudzi, while you generally seem like a reasonable fella, you have kinda barked up a wrong tree! For starters, you can not accuse a columnist of sounding like a salesman. A columnist basically takes up a position, in his opinion, the right one! As long as he explains him or herself. A good example is what we mostly see, a motorist columnist who will vouch for a certain car and diss another! Does not make the writer a sales or marketing guy. When the Bomardier people came to Zim ?I remember they were widely covered for several days by all the major media. Why, their aero planes have I gather what is one of the best reputations in the industry. The columnist says the same thing with you that Air Zim are thick heads. You say air Zim do not need new aero planes. Are you out of your sane mind? You gone mad? Air Zimbabwe's aero planes are very old. They are thirsty. They are not nice to look at. Passengers hate them. You do not need a formal survey ! The olds aero planes witless struggle to make good profit. Again, as a former pilot I agree? Air Zimbabwe just does not remember to make a profil at all. God bless you sir.

    Farai - 6 February 2015

    Much delusion again. Air Mugabe will need to buy 3 for the emperor. 1 for his kleptomaniac hoarder queen, 1 for his own use, and one cargo version for Grace's (Zimbabwe's Imelda Marcos) shopping freight , and two for the airline. Of course Bombardier need to remember that Zimbabweans never pay their debts. In other words this is more typical pathetic hallucination. No doubt the delegation of David Chapfika, Ignatious Morgan Chombo and Saviour Kasukuwere will demand that the ever compliant EU should pay,

    Simon Povo Moyo - 10 February 2015

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