On January 25th, 1983, the Saab 340 undertook its very first flight. In the following 40 years, more than 450 of the regional turboprops were built, finding homes with operators including Regional Express, Silver Airways, Loganair and Crossair. Alongside its stretched cousin, the Saab 2000, these aircraft have carried more passengers in 40 years than there are Americans.
The development of the Saab 340
Saab was primarily a manufacturer for the defense market, but in the 1970s, it was eyeing entrance into the civilian market too. Partnering with US manufacturer Fairchild, Saab set about designing a short-haul airliner for around 30 passengers, with Fairchild contributing the wings, tail unit and engine nacelles. As a result, the 340 was dubbed the SF340, nodding to the Saab-Fairchild partnership.
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Saab brought much of its military expertise to the aircraft, sharing several design and manufacturing techniques with the 340. For example, the aircraft does not have rivets securing the aluminum structure; rather, it uses a process of diffusion bonding, which serves to reduce weight.
The launch of the Saab 340 happily coincided with the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, which spurred a period of growth in the US market. This undoubtedly contributed to strong sales of the type in the early days, as airlines looked to expand beyond their previous boundaries and into new markets.
Entry into service
The first flight was on January 25th, 1983, from Saab’s home base in Linköping, Sweden. After this, the arduous process of testing and certification followed, which saw 24 flights carried out in just four weeks. According to Airways Mag, the 340 underwent 1,731 test flights with a total flying time of more than 585 hours, in order to secure its Joint European Certification.
This intensive testing program meant it was almost 18 months before the type entered into service. The launch customer was Swiss airline Crossair, which received its first airplane on June 6th, 1984. The airplane was immediately put into service on its Basel to Paris route, and proved to be quite the workhorse for the airline. Over the following years, even as Crossair became SWISS, it remained one of the biggest operators of the type worldwide.
In 1985, Saab took full ownership of the program following Fairchild withdrawing from the market amid financial difficulties. This saw the aircraft renamed the Saab 340, and production continued until 1999. The 340 was the best-selling aircraft in its size category, and proved popular in the US too, with American Eagle the largest operator with a maximum fleet size of 115.
An aircraft built to last
According to ch-aviation, 150 Saab 340s are currently in active use with 34 different airlines, although many more are listed as in maintenance, and could return to the global fleet soon. REX remains the largest operator.
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Despite many of these aircraft already reaching more than 30 years of service, Saab designed the 340 to last. Fatigue testing exceeded 200,000 cycles, or 75 years of typical regional operations, so despite production ending over 20 years ago, most of the global fleet is only at around half its design life.
Source: Airways Mag