Wednesday is the last time a major airline is expected to fly passengers into Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport using the Dash 8, a time-tested propeller plane jeered by some people as a “puddle jumper.”
American’s phase-out of the Dash, in favor of regional jets, promises an improved passenger experience.
John Dooley, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, said he once flew about four times monthly for a prior university job and spent many hours in the Dash.
“I can’t say I’m really sad to see the change,” he said. “One of its qualities, so to speak, is they could be pretty noisy at times and it was difficult to have conversation with others that you might be traveling with.”
During turbulence, passengers felt it to a greater degree than when aboard a larger plane, he added.
The final Dash flight to Roanoke will be on the books by nightfall. American Airlines flight 4905 is scheduled to land at 7:38 p.m. from Charlotte, North Carolina. A short ceremony is planned, according to airport officials, who have called the direction of change at the public airport favorable for a number of reasons.
Strong passenger traffic growth could improve the odds of airlines expanding limited flight offerings and lowering higher-than-average fares, officials said. The airport has applied to the federal government for $750,000 to potentially add nonstop service to either Dallas or Denver.
Also of interest to passengers, Allegiant Air intends to switch from MD-80 jets to Airbus equipment such as the A319 and A320 for Roanoke travel beginning in August, airport spokesman Brad Boettcher said. “Carriers are regularly changing the equipment they fly into ROA, especially now that our traffic keeps going up,” he said.
Air travelers totaled 61,261 in May, up 13.9 percent from May 2017, according to the airport. Through May, air traffic for 2018 totaled 7.5 percent higher than during the same period of 2017, putting the airport on track for its busiest year since 2011, airport officials said. They credited strong community support and improved airline operational reliability.
Piedmont Airlines is the subsidiary of American Airlines that is doing away with the Dash.
The regional carrier, which shares the American Eagle brand name, chose July 4 as the retirement date for its de Havilland Canada Dash 8s. Instead of the twin-engine, medium-range, regional turboprops, it plans to fly exclusively Embraer 145 regional jets in and out of Roanoke and other airports.
In addition to American, United and Delta ended use of the Dash. Airlines such as Alaska Airlines fly an advanced Dash 8 model, the Bombardier Q400.
The Roanoke airport plans to roll out its fire trucks to honor the final Dash with a water salute. According to an article on aviationcv.com, an online aviation job board, opposing fire trucks spray water in the form of an arch to salute aviators, planes and airlines who pass beneath the arch as they retire or cease operations. The tradition of unknown origin extends to marine operations as well, the article said.
While Piedmont will keep its aircraft maintenance facility at the Roanoke airport, the company intends to close its pilot and flight attendant base in Roanoke. Crew members have reported for work since the 1990s at the base, found in a secure area of the concourse under gates five and six.
Only 25 flight attendants and 90 pilots have recently used the base, airline spokeswoman Jacqueline Jennings said. Of the 90 pilots, 20 live in the Roanoke area, she said. Personnel will shift to crew bases at airports serving Philadelphia or Charlotte, Jennings said.
In Maryland, Piedmont’s home state, company officials will watch the landing of a different Dash flight from Charlotte at sunset at Salisbury Regional Airport. That will mark the end of Piedmont’s use of the Dash for 33 years, the company said.
The Dash and the regional jet taking its place offer a similar passenger experience in terms of seat width, leg room and travel time, Jennings said. Although the Dash affords passengers more head room than the jet does, the jet is quieter.
A Piedmont news release said the Dash 8 excelled at ferrying passengers from small communities to major airports, revolutionizing regional air travel. It takes off and lands on short runways. It flies faster than the Dash 7, its predecessor, but burns less fuel and costs less. It can fly in bad weather when some larger and heavier planes cannot.
The first Dash 8 Piedmont got, bearing tail number N906HA, flew an estimated 14.8 million miles and carried nearly 2 million passengers before it was retired in 2015, Piedmont said.
“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,” said Piedmont Capt. Michael Schirmann in a prepared company release.