Recently I was setting up a day-trip for a PAX customer, I was reminded about the “prop versus jet” question often asked about business aircraft. Here is a short primer so you can sound smarter than the average airline traveler at your next cocktail party!
There are two primary power plants in aviation – piston engines like what is in a car (Tesla excluded), and turbine engines, commonly called “jets”.
Piston engines, also known as reciprocating, use gasoline as fuel and capture the force of the exploding gasoline vapor to push the piston, turning a crankshaft, which turns a propeller. The small single engine aircraft at your local general aviation airport are typically piston.
Turbine engines consist of a compressor and combustion chamber. Jet-A fuel is pumped into the combustion chamber with compressed air from the compressor, it is ignited, as it burns the fuel expands, which turns the turbine which is connected to a shaft. Notice a key difference, Jet-A burns it does not explode, gasoline vapor explodes in a reciprocating engine. The turbine is connected to a shaft that turns a fan, which is what we think of as a jet engine, really a turbofan. If the turbine is turning a propeller it is referred to as a turboprop. There are many variations of turbines for aircraft, so we are dealing with the two most used by commercial aircraft.
Why do we care? Turbine engines are more reliable, more powerful, lighter weight and operate more efficiently and easily than pistons. However, turbines are more expensive to build and maintain. But the benefits outweigh the costs, hence why the airline industry was altered by their introduction.
When PAX books flights with operators for our users, it is always a turbine powered aircraft, most times a jet and sometimes a turboprop. Turbojet aircraft have higher cruise speeds for the same size aircraft, and a slight improvement in noise and comfort (vibration) compared to turboprops. However, turboprops will carry more weight (people and baggage) than a similar size jet, and if the trip is short, under 500 miles, the travel time difference between a turboprop and a jet is measured in minutes.
The Pilatus PC-12 provides a big pressurized cabin, with a large cargo area, and flies at 300 miles per hour.
The Embraer Phenom 100 jet is a light jet that seats four passengers and flies at 430 miles per hour cruise.
Both aircraft offer PAX a great platform to open service for different routes.