After years of design, testing, set-backs to overcome and a few last-minute weather delays, Saturday was the day aviation saw…
Dornier Disappearing: Tracking The Remaining Dornier 328 Commercial Operators
It is rare in the aviation world for work to stop on a project for over a decade only for a plane to be given a return to the drawing board in hopes that an old design will succeed. This summer, however, the Sierra Nevada Corporation announced that it would begin designing the Dornier 328NEU, which would be the next evolution of the Dornier 328 that was discontinued when Fairchild-Dornier financially collapsed in 2002.
Though production has been discontinued, the current versions of both the Dornier 328 with Pratt & Whitney PW119 turboprop engines and the 328JET with Pratt & Whitney PW306B turbofans continue to grace the skies across the globe. Of the 217 turboprops and 110 jet aircraft produced, there are 116 still flying with the propeller variant having a 64 to 52 advantage in aircraft still in service.
With a goal to try and make point-to-point flying more competitive, the Dornier 328 turboprop was built to fly at 375 mph and hold between 30 to 33 passengers. The aircraft would handle a range of 2,000 miles and operate at a ceiling of 31,000 feet. The 328JET would come seven years after the original and offer the same seating capacity with a higher velocity of 470 mph and increased max altitude to 35,000 feet but at the cost of 300 miles worth of the original aircraft’s range.
For airlines, the 30-seat aircraft was the perfect fit for the regional jet market and took root at carriers like Lufthansa, US Airways, Delta Air Lines and Horizon Air with the 30 to 50-seat market exploding with potential over that time. The loss of Dornier in 2002, however, coupled with the airline decline following Sept. 11, 2001, made the Dornier an easily disposable aircraft due to its operating costs and small chance of turning a profit.
Of the models still flying, only 46 are utilized for commercial service, with the largest operator being Sun Air of Scandinavia with 14 of the jet-powered model in its fleet. The airline operates the planes for two different companies with British Airways using the planes for commercial operations out of bases in Billund, Sweden; Friedrichshafen, Germany and Aarhus, Denmark. The airline operates the commercial jet for British Airways in a 1-2 seat layout with 32 seats onboard.
As for the rest of Europe, the aircraft’s home continent has become disenfranchised with the German-built plane as commercial operations have turned to just two other carriers outside of Sun Air of Scandinavia: Rhein-Neckar Air of Germany and Eagle Air of Iceland.
The turboprop version of the aircraft is used by Rhein-Neckar for flights from Mannheim to Berlin and Hamburg with seasonal flights also appearing in the summer. The German airline is currently using three aircraft with 33 seats onboard.
Meanwhile, Iceland’s Eagle Air received its only Dornier 328 from Rhein-Neckar’s parent company, MHS Aviation, in 2018. The 33-seat propeller-driven aircraft is deployed on flights across Iceland’s south coast as well as for both domestic and international charter flights.
Across the pond, North America brings forth some of the largest currently active Dornier 328 operators in both the United States and Canada. In the U.S., carriers Ultimate JetCharters and Key Lime Air feature a combined fleet of 14 aircraft that are utilized in both the commercial and charter market. Both carriers operate the jet version of the aircraft and both seat 30 passengers.
Ultimate JetCharters operates its commercial operations under the name Ultimate Air Shuttle with flights from its base at Cincinnati’s Lunken Field to cities including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Morristown, N.J. The service is intended to use smaller, executive airports in those cities to avoid the large commercial fields.
Meanwhile, Key Lime Air’s Dorniers operate under the Denver Air Connection banner flying from Denver to Alliance, Nebraska, Telluride, Colorado and Sheridan and Riverton, Wyoming. The airline also has a single flight from Denver’s Centennial Airport to Grand Junction, Colorado.
Also out west the Dornier can be found at Taos Air of New Mexico, whose fleet of two Dornier 328JETs are used in the winter months for Taos Ski Valley Inc. to get travelers to the slopes. The virtual airline’s flights were operated by Ultimate JetCharters in their inaugural season of 2018-2019 but over the most recent offseason the Taos-based carrier opted switch providers to Advanced Air for future flights.
Canada’s two lone Dornier operators feature both the turboprop and jet variant of the 328 as Calm Air of Winnipeg has a single 328JET while British Columbia’s Central Mountain Air has three of the turboprop variants. Calm Air’s Dornier was a major milestone for the airline as it was the inaugural jet aircraft for the Manitoban carrier when flights between Rankin Inlet and Winnipeg were operated by the jet in 2013.
The aircraft, however, has since seen reduced service with the fleet as larger aircraft like the ATR 42 and 72 have taken over a staple for the carrier.
Two provinces over, Central Mountain Air continues to utilize its fleet of Dornier’s with flights across British Columbia and Alberta. The airline uses the aircraft in a 30-seat configuration and the aircraft is the smallest in the 24 aircraft airline, being dwarfed by a pack of 14 Beechcraft 1900Ds and seven DeHavilland Dash 8s.
Of the remaining nine Dorniers that are used for commercial operation, eight are located with airlines in Asia. Xpress Air of Indonesia has the most with six turboprop driven aircraft currently being in use for its domestic flights to short runway airports and less popular routes.
The remaining in Asia are two Dornier 328s that operate for SEAir International of Philippines and one 328JET for Sepehran Airlines of Iran. Finally, Nigeria’s Air Peace is the lone commercial operator of the Dornier in Africa with one 328JET.
While the first and second iterations of the Dornier might be reducing its role in commercial aviation, the jet has adopted other positions in the aviation market. The aircraft has been an air ambulance for airlines in Germany, Colombia and Australia and is still active in the military with the Botswanan Defense Force, Policia Federal Mexico and the United States Air Force having a total 23 active units of either the Dornier 328 or C-146A Wolfhound being operated.
Both original versions of the jet are very active in the charter market with airlines and corporations across the globe turning to the plane for use due to its size, performance and cost. While no airlines have committed for the 328NEU as design work begins, the current operators of the aircraft have kept the small German aircraft airborne to bridge the service years until the next generation joins the skies in 2023.
Story was updated on December 13, 2019 at 11:34pm EST to include Taos Air’s seasonal flights with the Dornier 328.
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