The plane is still in production in 2012. More than 1,000 have been built across all variants, and Bombardier predicts a total run of 1,192 aircraft through 2016.
There are four main Dash 8 variants — Series 100, 200, 300, and 400. The 100 and 200 have the same fuselage length and seat 39 people. The main difference between the first two is that the 200 features a more powerful engine. The Series 300 seats 50 in a stretched design. The 400 is stretched even more and can seat 78 passengers. Aircraft delivered after 1997 start with the letter “Q,” like Q300 and Q400.
The Dash 8 is an economical evolution from de Havilland’s under-appreciated short take-off and landing capable Dash 7. The company is known for its line of STOL airplanes, but in the 70s and 80s, airlines were more interested in an affordable airplane than one that performed well on short fields. The quad-engine Dash 7 required much more maintenance than a twin-engine airplane and was therefore more expensive to own and operate. Only 113 Dash 7s were built. The Dash 8 maintains a lot of classic de Havilland features, but it is much more affordable.
The Dash 8 also came at the perfect time, when older turboprop airliners were nearing retirement. Demand for affordable medium-range planes was so high that competitors like Aérospatiale of France and Alenia of Italy teamed up to form ATR. The joint venture’s ATR 42 was created to compete with the Dash 8. Other companies rushed in, with Brazil’s Embraer building the EMB-120 and Sweden’s Saab building the Saab 340. The Dash 8 still won, and more Dash 8s were built than ATR 42s and Saab 430s combined. These turboprops remain popular and in active service throughout the world, despite competition over the last 30 years from faster “regional jets.”
The Q400 series is most well-suited to compete in the 21st century with jets. The stretched design can accommodate up to 78 passengers and has a top speed of 414 mph, which is competitive with regional jets. By comparison the Dash 8 100 series only cruises at about 310 mph. Every Dash 8 is powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.
While the Dash 8 is a very safe airplane, there have been some incidents, most notably with the landing gear over the last five years. Since 2007, several landing gear failures have occurred, particularly on the Q400. Two incidents occurred within four days with Scandinavian Airlines Q400s in September 2007, causing the airline and others to ground their fleets. Problems have been found, but to be fair to the airplane, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was given a scathing reprimand by the Swedish Civil Aviation Authority, accusing the company of poor maintenance procedures and corner cutting.Air Cache encountered a 1990-era Dash 8 102A at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport in July 2012 (we will bring a better camera in a few weeks to improve our staff photos). Piedmont Airlines, operating as US Airways Express, is the exclusive carrier out of New Haven and runs daily flights back and forth to Philadelphia. Piedmont has a fleet of 44 aircraft — all Dash 8s.
In January 2011, Piedmont Flight 4507 from Philadelphia to New Haven was struck by lightning over the Long Island Sound, forcing it to divert to Long Island Macarthur Airport. No one was injured.
The U.S. Air Force operates two modified Dash 8s, called the E-9A. The E-9A has a simple yet vital mission. It is used as a surveillance platform to ensure the Gulf of Mexico waters are clear of civilian boaters and aircraft during live missile launches and other military drills. It features AN/APS-143 multi-mode X-Band maritime surveillance radar by Telephonics, similar to the radar used by the SH-60 or MH-60 Seahawk. The E-9A can detect a person in a life raft in the water up to 25 miles away.