Early on Wednesday evening American Airlines flight 4927 will depart Charlotte destined for Salisbury Wicomico Ocean City Regional Airport in Salisbury, Maryland just as it has many times before. This trip, however, is very different. It is a retirement celebration both for the aircraft and the pilots. When AA 4927 lands the Dash-8 will no longer fly for American subsidiary Piedmont, ending a run of 33 years. Both pilots operating the flight will also retire when the flight is complete.
.@piedmontair retires its last Dash 8 tonight. An often unsung hero of the air industry, the turboprop flew for the airline for 33 years, one of the longest runs of a regional aircraft. #avgeek photo of the day (track it on @flightradar24: AA4927) pic.twitter.com/YlZTQ9oOMH
— Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren (@photoJDL) July 4, 2018
The Dash 8 fleet has been Piedmont’s pride and joy since the first Dash was delivered to company headquarters in Salisbury on April 4, 1985. The first revenue flight, from Salisbury to Baltimore, took place on May 2, 1985.
Much like the ERJ-145/CRJ-200 push 15ish years ago, the Dash-8 represented a significant step in the evolution of air travel. It was a faster model compared to the Dash-7 it replaced and offered good operating economics into smaller airports with shorter runways. More than 100 of the type eventually operated under the Piedmont brand, serving three parent airlines (Piedmont, US Airways, American Airlines) and 121 destinations.
The Dash was the workhorse of the regional network, and it has served us well for years. It was a true pilot’s airplane. The Dash’s outstanding safety record, reliability and short runway capabilities will be missed in communities all over the East Coast. We know that passengers prefer the regional jets and we want to provide the best service we can for American and for our customers, but it will be a bittersweet day for Piedmont. – Lyle Hogg, CEO of Piedmont Airlines
With the retirement this evening the smaller series of Dash-8 aircraft (-100, –200, –300) ends its service for larger US-based airlines (Ravn Alaska still has them flying). United Airlines‘ regional partners retired their turboprop aircraft from service earlier this year. American/Piedmont’s are the last of these smaller/older aircraft in commercial service in the USA. Several remain in service in Canada, notably –100s and –300s flying for Air Canada Express, operated by its Jazz subsidiary.
The final flight of the @piedmontair #AmericanEagle de Havilland Canada Dash 8-300. N330EN getting ready to fly as @AmericanAir 4927 from @CLTAirport to Salisbury, Md. (Photos via @kbcody13) pic.twitter.com/IV8CoIwfBk
— Ross Feinstein (@RossFeinstein) July 4, 2018
The newer, larger Dash-8 Q400 remains in service, with Porter Air and Air Canada operating significant numbers in Canada and Alaska Airlines‘ subsidiary Horizon Air operating several as well. But the evolution of the aviation market in North America is pushing even these larger turboprops into a marginal use case.
It is not only about the performance characteristics of the aircraft or the demand for flights in smaller markets. The economics of the industry are changing and turboprops are being squeezed hard. A shortage of pilots continues to hammer on the aviation world. Those still flying in the USA are moving more and more towards operating the regional or mainline jets. The smaller props are, effectively, too expensive to keep flying, based largely on the challenges of keeping the front office staffed.
The Dash 8 was one of those rare airplanes that stood out in a crowd. It had the performance and ability to handle tough weather conditions that, when paired with a skilled pilot, allowed it to routinely and safely complete flights that other airplanes simply couldn’t. From a pilot’s perspective, the Dash 8 was a lifelong friend that commanded respect and taught so many of us what flying was really about. – Piedmont Captain Michael Schirmann
The fact that total passengers carried in the US also more than doubled in the past 33 years – from 372mm to 850mm between 1985 and 2017 – also doesn’t help the cause for smaller aircraft continuing in service. Even 50-seat jets are generally being pushed out of service (United’s current CR2 growth being an anomaly here). But the jets provide a better transition plan for the pilots and are more in demand. The props, not so much.
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