It wasn’t long ago that all airlines used propeller planes, but now they are becoming increasingly rare. Why is it that prop planes are no longer as common? And what about the few airlines that still choose to fly them?

Why Don’t we use Propellers Anymore?

The short answer is simply that they are too slow. The best example of this is the route between Moscow and Montreal, which was flown by both propeller and jet planes in the 1950s.

A Tupolev Tu-114 propeller plane
A Tupolev Tu-114, operated by Aeroflot | © Dave Welch

The Tupolev tu-114, the fastest propeller plane ever built, could reach Montreal in 9 hours and 18 minutes. However, the Boeing 707, which also flew the route, could make the journey in just 7 hours and 10 minutes. That’s over two hours saved on your trip!

In general, it is easier for a jet plane to fly at higher speeds, as propeller planes are limited by physics. At greater speeds, the tips of the propellers spin so fast that they break the sound barrier, making the aircraft less efficient and slowing it down. Consequently, it would not be possible to make propeller planes that fly as quickly as jet planes.

Why do Some Airlines Still use Propeller Planes?

Even though propellers aren’t as fast as turbines, they have some distinct advantages. At low altitudes and over short distances, propellers actually outperform jets. Propeller engines also stall at slower speeds than jet engines, allowing the aircraft to land on shorter runways. This is why you still see propeller planes used for travel between smaller regional airports.

An ATR 72 Propeller plane
The ATR 72 is commonly used by regional airlines | © ATR

They are also cheaper to run than their fuel-guzzling counterparts. The propeller-driven ATR-72 burns 110kg of fuel per hour, whereas the jet-powered A320ceo consumes close to 2,500kg per hour! whilst the A320 will get you to your destination sooner, the fuel cost is still greater overall. Additionally, the ATR-72 is around six times cheaper than the Airbus counterpart, making it a more affordable option for smaller airlines.

So whilst propellers may not be suitable for long-haul travel anymore, they are still the best for short routes to secluded airports.

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