Not too long ago Bombardier (formally de Havilland Canada) Dash 8s were retired from the Flag Carrier of The Bahamas, “Bahamasair”. This signaled the final departure of the family of aircraft within the wider Caribbean region as regional carriers moved to replace their aging turboprops with newer more efficient ATR 42 and 72 aircraft. This fleet modernization was inevitable but not without some complications. When Trinidad and Tobago’s flag carrier “Caribbean Airlines” announced in 2010 that it was renewing the fleet with ATR, a question aroused to why that choice of aircraft was made. Similar questions were asked again when Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT) decided in early 2013 that they too would move towards ATR to replace the Dash 8. Although answers were given both times it didn’t become apparent until Bahamasair announced at the Paris Air Show in 2015 that they are ordering the ATR family of aircraft.
A logical choice to replace the Dash 8 would be with a newer Dash 8. However this poses a challenge when Bombardier's offering of the Dash 8 only consists of the Q400; a quieter aircraft than the preceding Q300 but vastly bigger. The economics of the ATR airplanes proved more appealing to regional customers than the performance benefits of the Q400s. Listing prices also lean in favor of ATR. But one of the major reasons the choice for ATR was made is the offering of a 50 seater aircraft. There are many routes that have a low load factor and having a 70+ seater plane flying these island routes does not make sense.
The Q400 in later years implemented different options that made the plane more flexible ranging from a Dual Class layout to Extra Capacity of 86-90 seats. The option for a Combi seems to be more likely suited for Caribbean carriers as the benefits of island hopping 50 passengers and cargo seem plausible but it was too little to late. There was almost a Q400 operator called “BlueSky Airlines” in the Cayman Islands. Although nothing came out of it, the website is surprisingly still up.
Ever since these airlines implemented their fleet renewal, customers and employees have expressed both praises and concerns with the planes. Some concerns in fact, have brought up the possibility of replacing the ATR with Q400s due to ongoing reliability problems. This however is likely not to happen especially after Bombardier announced selling the Q400 program to Viking Air parent company Longview Aviation. This move does signal a possible shift for the Canadian company to a solely business aerospace company like Gulfstream. In any case, the ATR family of aircraft is here to stay within the Caribbean.