Indian LCC SpiceJet has taken delivery of the first 90-seat version of Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop, the manufacturer said Sept. 21.

The entry of the extra-capacity aircraft into commercial service is a milestone for Bombardier’s Q400 program and gives the Canadian manufacturer a needed boost since the July turnover of the CSeries jet program to Airbus. The 90-seat version of the Q400 was certified by Transport Canada in early August.

SpiceJet is the launch customer for the 90-seat Q400, having firmed an order in September 2017 for 25 of the type, with options for an additional 25.

SpiceJet’s order remains Bombardier’s largest single booking for Q400 aircraft to date, valued at $1.7 billion total.  The 90-seat version offers 15% more passenger capacity, and a 15% reduction of seat costs, compared to the standard 78-seat configuration, according to Bombardier Commercial Aircraft SVP-commercial Colin Bole.

“The 90-seat option demonstrates the increased profitability potential this unique turboprop has to offer,” Bole said, an opinion seconded by SpiceJet chairman and MD Ajay Singh. “The additional seats and performance improvements will result in substantial reduction in unit costs,” Singh said. “[With it] we will be able to address our market needs in the regional space.”

Additional improvements with the Q400 include an expansion of the Q400’s A and C check maintenance intervals from 600 to 800 hours and 6,000 to 8,000 hours, respectively.

Bombardier is looking to develop a trend among some carriers—like Ethiopian Airlines and Canada’s WestJet—to work the Q400 into mainline schedules, leveraging the aircraft’s 360-kt maximum cruise speed on routes that cannot support mainline narrowbodies, or on routes that require more frequency instead of higher-capacity aircraft.

“There’s been a change in the Q400 marketplace in the last few years,” Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP & head of marketing Patrick Baudis said in May. “Airlines were operating turboprops in isolation mode, which doesn’t take advantage of the Q400’s capabilities. Now, some are fully integrating the Q400 operations into a jet operation. That changes the dynamic.”

The expanded Q400 gained a second customer in recent weeks, as China’s CIB Leasing converted half of its standing order for 10 CRJ900 jets to five 90-seat Q400s in early September.

In its most recent Q series program status report, from June 30, Bombardier reported a backlog of 56 Q400s, for customers including Angola’s Air Connection Express, South Africa’s CemAir, Canadian aerial firefighting company Conair, Ethiopian Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Kazakhstan regional carrier Qazaq Air and SpiceJet.

Mark Nensel