A recent tragedy in the Andes, which claimed the lives of 46 passengers, has really highlighted the difference in safety between flying in large, standardized, commercial jetliners and smaller, less trustworthy ones. Yet, despite the fact that they’re much riskier, many people still utilize small planes on a regular basis. It’s important, then, to at least understand what type of machinery was involved in the Andean disaster. The plane in question was an ATR 42-300.
According to Airliners.net, the ATR 42-300 was first flown in October of 1981, in a prototype form. The very first ATR 42-300 to actually enter service with passengers did so on December 9, 1985. The machine, which is a “42 seat turboprop regional airliner,” is generally used for low-range passenger flights, and has a relatively considerable payload capacity (16,700 kg / 36,817 lbs) in comparison to other planes of comparable stature.
The ATR 42-300’s turboprop design varies from most other, more common, passenger planes. The vast majority of airliners, even those intended for short, low-altitude flights, have a jet propulsion system of some variety. Propeller planes, in contrast, are much easier to fly, but can also be more prone to maintenance problems and dangerous in poor weather conditions.
The speed characteristics of the ATR 42-300 are fairly standard in comparison to other, similarly-powered turboprop planes. The vehicle’s top cruising speed is set at 490 kilometers per hour. While this is considerably lower than the speeds at which most jet planes can fly, it is extremely respectable within the world of propeller planes. This tends to be the case, however, when one examines airliner turboprops.
When considering range, the ATR 42-300 is relatively moderate. Its range is established, with top fuel reserves, at 4480 kilometers. This makes it a perfect aircraft for shorter flights in-between same-continent airports. Its range is entirely unsuitable, however, for transcontinental travel, particularly considering the fact that the aforementioned range is in optimal conditions, with no extra weight, and with full fuel reserves.
The capacity of the ATR 42-300 sometimes varies. As is listed above, it is traditionally a “42 seat” passenger plane, and generally has a flight crew of 2. There are alternate seating arrangements, however, set up to accommodate 50, 48, or 46 passengers.
In terms of profitability, as well, the ATR 42-300 has always been a stalwart competitor within its class. In fact, according to ATRaircraft.com, the ATR 42-300 has always maintained operating costs which, “are 15% to 20% lower than those of its competitors.” Traditionally, this has allowed airlines utilizing the planes to offer extraordinarily good fares without really sacrificing profits.