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A Saab Story: What Is Left of the Swedes in America
While many Americans have taken note of the loss of McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s and Boeing 757s from the American skies, one aircraft has also dramatically disappeared: the Saab 340. While most of the flying public will cheer on the demise of a small prop plane due to its narrow fuselages and lack of room, some people might take note in the decline in the 30-seat market and attempt to fly the vanishing bird. The regional aircraft has been gradually removed from most major US carriers including Delta, US Airways, American and Northwest fleets over the last ten years, leaving very few options for those seeking to fly on the small prop plane. However, there are some airlines that still give Americans the chance to experience the Saab 340.
The largest remaining US operator of commercial Saab 340 is the eastern seaboard carrier, Silver Airways. The airline offers commercial flights for United Express out of Washington D.C. and intra-Florida service operated exclusively on their fleet of 23 Saab 340s. The airline’s Florida route map consists of 10 destinations inside of Florida was well as international destinations to eight destinations in the Bahamas. The airline operates a maintenance base for the Saab fleet at Orlando International Airport. While the airline has had success in the Florida and Bahamas markets, the Silver flights out of Washington-Dulles have been heavily subsidized by the Essential Air Service program, where Silver flies to destinations like Johnstown, PA, Shenandoah Valley, VA and Clarksburg, WV. Silver’s Saab 340Bs are in a 1-2 all economy seating arrangement, except for the last row which is a 2-2 alignment. Silver doesn’t have any plans to replace the Saab 340s anytime soon.
When Colgan Air closed their doors on September 5, 2012, most of their fleet of Saab 340s were dispersed throughout smaller carriers in North America. One of which is Louisiana based GLO Airlines, who inherited their ex-Colgan aircraft after a charter carrier who had previously inherited the jets went bankrupt. GLO is based at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport with flights to Little Rock, Memphis, Shreveport, and seasonal service to Destin. While the aircraft are owned by GLO, their flights are operated with help from a private jet company called Corporate Flight Management. Like Silver, GLO operates an all economy 1-2 seating arrangement, however omits the 2-2 final row like their fellow southern carrier does. The airline is only three years old and is currently has no plans to replace their Saab 340s, however, GLO might also look into 50-seat regional jets or larger should the demand exist.
While sunshine and calm southern weather are great conditions for flying the smaller prop regional planes, Saab aircraft are still found outside ov the Bible Belt. With 17 Saab 340s and three Saab 2000s in their fleet, Penair has found ways to utilize the small, Swedish built jet in Alaska. The airline operates to smaller Alaskan towns via a codesharing agreement with Alaska Airlines. While Penair operates a majority of their routes in Alaska, the airline has expanded to allow for growth out of Portland and Boston too, providing regional services for various towns in the area. Like the Alaskan routes, the routes out of the hubs in Portland and Boston also codeshare with Alaska Airlines. Combined, the airline operates to 21 destinations ,11 in Alaska, four in the Northeast and six in the pacific Northwest. Like GLO, Penair operates the 1-2 seating arrangement with 30 seats in 15 of their 17 Saab 340s. The remaining two Saab 340s are used in a cargo configuration and the Saab 2000s are in a 1-2 seating formation with room for 45 passengers.
While the list of United States’ commercial operators for the Saab 340 has diminished, they aren’t the only way to fly the Saab aircraft in the States. IBC Airways of Miami operates three, 30 seat Saab 340s for charter use and eight in the freighter version. Honolulu-based Aloha Air Cargo operates a fleet of three Saab 340s for cargo usage around the island, providing cargo service to the smaller islands in the 50th state. There are a few international airlines who operate the aircraft into the United States too. SkyBahamas Airlines operates six aircraft out of Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport with service throughout the Bahamas and to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Seaborne Airlines of Puerto Rico also operates eight Saab 340s, providing flights between San Juan and neighboring islands like the Dominican Republic, St, Croix, St. Kitts and Nevis and the British Virgin Islands.
With Saab now out of the commercial jet business, the ability to see the legendary aircraft at airports in the United States diminishes yearly. These retirements are only aided by the surplus of cheap 50-seat Embraer and Bombardier aircraft that are being removed from major airlines’s fleets. Like other regional turboprops such as the Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner and Shorts 360, the Saab 340’s US commercial history is coming to a close, and presents itself for only a limited number of remaining flights to have your chance fly the Swedes’ regional prop jet.
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