Bombardier sees that Asian carriers’ desire to grow their passenger businesses, in the face of slot constraints at capital city airports, will lead some to add smaller aircraft, such as the Bombardier Q400 and Bombardier CSeries.

That may seem counterintuitive, as slot constraints usually lead airlines to add bigger rather than smaller aircraft, but Torbjorn Karlsson, Bombardier commercial aircraft VP of sales for Asia Pacific, says slot constraints at capital city airports mean airlines can no longer continue to try and link tier-two and tier-three cities via capital city hubs.

Instead, airlines need to operate nonstop between secondary cities and help free up slots by bypassing the capital city airports, he says.

To achieve this goal, airlines need to add smaller capacity aircraft, such as the Q400 and CSeries, says Karlsson, adding that demand for nonstop services between tier-two and tier-three cities is insufficient to support 180-seat A320s and 189-seat 737-800s.

He says this trend – of bypassing capital city hubs – is already occurring in Indonesia, where Garuda Indonesia is using 96-seat Bombardier CRJ1000s to bypass Jakarta and link secondary cities in western and eastern cities with nonstop services. Garuda uses the Jakarta slots it saves by doing this for longer haul international services.

Karlsson says he can see the trend occurring in other Asian countries. For example, he predicts that Thai carriers will start to link northern Thailand with southern Thailand with nonstop flights that bypass Bangkok altogether. Thai AirAsia has already started to do this by launching a service in December from Chiang Mai to Krabi using 180-seat A320s. But Karlsson says using turboprops or 110- to 130-seat CSeries gives an airline the opportunity to provide more frequency and properly match capacity with demand.

Bombardier sold two Bombardier Q400s in November to Thailand’s Nok Air with options for two more. The variant that Bombardier sold is a higher capacity version that seats 86. Nok is the launch customer for this higher capacity version.

Karlsson describes the 86-seater as a “game changer.” Bombardier has traditionally struggled to sell turboprops in Asia partly because the ATR 72 has a reputation for greater fuel efficiency. The fact that the Q400 is a faster aircraft means that it has a higher fuel burn.

But Karlsson says now that the Q400 has 86 seats, versus 72 seats on the ATR 72, it means that the Q400 has 17% lower seat-mile cost. This is a claim with which ATR, of course, strenuously disagrees.

He also says Bombardier has introduced a function where the pilot can select to fly at long-range cruise mode. This reduces the aircraft flight speed, thus reducing fuel burn. “It gives airlines more flexibility. If they don’t need the greater speed, you can fly at long-range cruise and reduce fuel burn. This is good for flights at the end of the day when it doesn’t matter if the aircraft arrives at 9 p.m. or 9:20 p.m.” But, he adds, some airlines still want the higher speed for schedule recovery or to get more flights in the day.

The earlier high-capacity configuration had the Q400 seating 78 passengers with 30-in seat pitch. The manufacturer has been able to increase the capacity to 86 seats with a 29-in seat pitch, by removing the aircraft’s forward cargo hold and forward galley. It also makes use of slimline seats.

Karlsson says even though the forward galley and forward cargo hold are now gone and replaced with seating, there is still a lavatory at the front cabin, as well as at the back of the aircraft. He also says the aft section still has a galley, as well as baggage hold that can carry 4,710 lb of baggage and cargo. “This is 35% more than the ATR,” he says.

He says the reason they were slow to introduce this new higher capacity version is because Bombardier’s customers in the U.S. and Europe require a turboprop to have a huge baggage hold. This is because carriers such as Lufthansa have many passengers that carry big suitcases, as they are getting off long-haul widebody flights and connecting to Q400 flights, he says.

But in Asia the market is different, he explains, adding that it just took a bit of prodding by Asian airlines and for Asian airlines to ask the question for Bombardier to respond with the new higher capacity Q400.