It is reasonable to expect that you are – more or less – familiar with the expression vis major. Curiously, in English the French expression force majeure is used instead of Latin vis major. According to one (of many) definition vis major is an overwhelming, unanticipated, and unpreventable event, usually caused by a natural force, the occurrence of which may exempt a party from performing the obligations of a contract. The current pandemic COVID-19, which rapidly spread to the whole world, may be also considered as a vis major event. This event led to restrictive measures imposed to many sectors of economy, including aviation – the passenger air transport dropped to almost nil. In Slovakia, the international flights originating or ending at a Slovak airport were banned as of March 13, as a measure to prevent further spreading of the COVID-19 disease. Due to this ban Austrian Airlines, ČSA, Eurowings, LOT, Ryanair and WizzAir stopped to fly to and from Košice.
The no-fights period lasted for almost exactly three months and the regular flights restarted on June 15, with the ČSA flight from Prague to Košice. One week later, on June 22, Austrian became second airline to restart the connection to Košice, this time from Vienna. Both companies used on their flights from Prague and Vienna to Košice the well-proven and widely used turboprop aircraft ATR 72 and DHC-8, respectively. We briefly describe the two competing types.
The plane designated ATR 72 is a product of a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, which is a joint venture between Aérospatiale of France and Aeritalia of Italy. Full name of this company is Aerei da Trasporto Regionale in Italian and Avions de transport regional in French – so the abbreviation ATR is the same in both languages. The prototype of the first model, designated ATR 42, conducted its maiden flight on 16 August 1984. By stretching the fuselage and increasing the wingspan a larger model ATR 72 for 72 passengers was developed from ATR 42. Modernized version ATR 52-500, which flew for the first time in 1997, is powered by more powerful engines (delivering 2 148 kW each), and has six-bladed propellers and modernized interior for up to 74 passengers. The plane has length of 27.16 m, its wingspan is 27,06 m, height is 7.65 m and its maximum takeoff weight is 22,500 kg. Cruise speed is slightly over 500 km/h, maximum range is 1,330 km. For the first flight to Košice after a three-month break, Czech airlines used one of their five ATR 72-500 aircraft, namely the one with the registration OK-GFS – this plane was added to the ČSA fleet in 2012.
Austrian Airlines also used a turboprop plane for their first flight on the reopened connection between Vienna and the metropolis of Eastern Slovakia. On the Austrian webpage we may find the plane under the designation Bombardier Q400. This may be a bit confusing to you, since as we mentioned above, a DHC-8 type was used for the restart of the Vienna – Košice regular service. Explanation is simple – both designations refer to the same aircraft type. The DHC-8 plane, commonly referred to as Dash 8, was developed by the De Havilland Canada (DHC) company and its prototype made first flight in 1983. In 1992 DHC was bought by the Canadian company Bombardier and the plane was accordingly rebranded to bear the name of a new owner. This was not for long, since in 2018 the company was bought by Longview which revived the de Havilland Canada brand. Austrian uses the newest version of the popular Canadian turboprop, designated Dash 8-400. This version is also known as Q400, where Q means quiet to indicate that the plane is fitted active noise control systems so that passengers perceive the cabin as quiet. The plane is 32.83 m long, 8.34 m high and its wingspan is 28.42 m. Maximum seating is for 90 passengers, Austrian uses cabin configuration for 76 passengers. Maximum speed is 995 km/h, range is about 1,630 km. First passengers from Vienna arrived in Košice on board a DHC 8-400 alias Q400 plane registered as OE-LGN. The plane, flying for Austrian since 2012, bears the name of the Austrian city Gmunden.
Text and photos R. Mlýnek